Apollo Magazine

Frieze week highlights: Beat Generation artists and the forgotten Vorticist

Drawings and paintings by the little-known Vorticist artist Helen Saunders and a screening of Bruce Conner’s 1967 film ‘THE WHITE ROSE’ are among the shows not to miss this year

Helen Saunders Hammock

Hammock (c. 1913-14), Helen Saunders. The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © Estate of Helen Saunders

With hundreds of exhibitions and events vying for your attention in London during Frieze week, Apollo’s editors pick out the shows they don’t want to miss

In August of this year, researchers at the Courtauld Institute of Art announced the discovery of a ‘lost’ painting by the artist Helen Saunders, found beneath a work by Wyndham Lewis – the founder of the Vorticism movement. The discovery was all the more significant given that Saunders was one of only two women to join the Vorticists, provoking a myriad of questions around gender, erasure and ownership. A collection of drawings and watercolours by the artist that were gifted to The Courtauld in 2016 by a relative are now the subject of a solo exhibition (14 October–29 January 2023), which aims to recover the artist from the looming presence of her male contemporaries.

Afternoon’s Darkness (Agnes) (2022), Somaya Critchlow. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd; courtesy the artist and Maximillian William, London; © Somaya Critchlow.

The British artist Somaya Critchlow’s sensual portraits of voluptuous Black women on show at Maximillian William (until 19 November) more directly contemplate issues around identity and gender. Drawing on a broad range of references, from Renaissance painting to Disney films and contemporary pop culture, Critchlow’s figures are proud and defiant, occupying domestic spaces and surreal landscapes.

Meanwhile, Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street, is shedding light on the work of the Colombian artist Olga de Amaral in her first solo show in London for almost a decade (until 29 November). Blurring the boundaries between painting, sculpture, installation and fibre art, de Amaral is renowned for layered, shimmering forms that play with light, space and texture. The show features historic and recent pieces, including Luz Blanca (White Light, 1969), a cascading installation comprising feathered sheets of plastic and Strata XV (2009), a hanging wall of woven linen encrusted in gesso and acrylic, and adorned with gold leaf.

Strata XV (2009), Olga de Amaral. Photo: courtesy Lisson gallery; © Olga de Amaral

Finally, Thomas Dane Gallery is screening Bruce Conner’s 1967 film THE WHITE ROSE for the first time in the UK (until 12 November). The seven-minute black and white film was born from Conner’s close friendship with the artist Jay DeFeo – they spoke so often DeFeo apparently nicknamed Conner ‘Telephone’. Set to music from Miles Davis’ album Sketches of Spain, the film tenderly records the manoeuvring of DeFeo’s monumental painting The Rose through a bay window of her first-floor apartment in San Francisco following an eviction notice (DeFeo was unable to afford the rent increase). ‘It was the end of The Rose, and it was the end of Jay,’ Conner commented later in an interview.

Still from THE WHITE ROSE (1967), Bruce Conner. Photo: Richard Ivey; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco and The Jay DeFeo Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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