Shiela Girling proves herself again to be an artist in her own right

PUBLISHED: 13:25 03 May 2012

Vanitas for Audrey, Shiela Girling

Vanitas for Audrey, Shiela Girling

Archant

The Hampstead artist's new works are a tribute to her recently deceased sister

»For some admirers of Sheila Girling’s paintings their appeal lies in the sculptural forms, for others in the delicate colour sense displayed, but for me it is the way that they transform sometimes very personal experiences into fresh and memorable imagery.

New Works by Girling at Maddox Arts in Mayfair has a series of still lives she made in 2011. They include Vanitas For Audrey, a tribute to her sister who had recently died.

To the typical skull and burning candle Girling adds objects relating to Audrey’s life, including the mandolin which their father used to play.

The strong sombre tones contrast with the exhilarating colours of Friday Morning, a 2005 still life, where the scales of three fish on a board glitter so seductively that they whet the appetite.

All the paintings in the exhibition are acrylic on canvas with cut-out collaged forms added – some of which are canvas pieces either painted on purpose or happened upon, others handmade paper.

Girling says collage is a technique that suits her well. “It prolongs the thought process and gives me the opportunity to construct the painting over a period of time without losing spontaneity.”

She also likes the way that it enables her to keep colour pure rather than the paint being worked upon.

In her appreciation of the new works, art historian Mary Rose Beaumont draws attention to the subtlety of Girling’s use of colour in the largest work in the exhibition. She observes that the colours of The Last Supper – inspired by viewing Leonardo’s eponymous painting from such a distance that it was just a shower of colourful shapes – closely follow those in the original.

Girling’s ambition is illustrated by her taking on this subject and the canvas’s dimensions – over three metres long and nearly two high.

Yet Girling was not always so confident, with good reason. She is married to Sir Anthony Caro, whom she met in 1948 when they were students at the Royal Academy Schools.

Since 1953 they have lived in Hampstead in a home converted from a stable block and smithy attached to Flitcroft House in Frognal.

At first Caro worked in a garage there and Girling decided to focus her creative energy on helping him, because, she says: “I felt one of us should succeed.”

She chose colours for his sculptures, which she painted herself in the early days, and the ideas she contributed in discussions influenced his work.

Her horizons were widened by exposure to art, artists and critics in the vanguard, especially in the early 60s when they lived in America.

There, Girling learned procedures she still follows, including working on a horizontal plane, like Jackson Pollock, though she has forsaken the floor for surfaces at a comfortable height.

But when her sons were old enough for her to return to painting full-time, Girling found that she had developed a high critical faculty but had total creative block.

She went into analysis but after a few weeks of talking decided to “just get on with it – it isn’t the end of the world if you fail a few times”.

This sound sense helped her as an artist proving herself in her own right when married to a top sculptor.

She recalls one dealer talking about an exhibition as “a vanity show”. Her exhibiting record, including many RA summer exhibitions, and the enthusiasm evinced by those new to her work and those familiar with it, reveal how wide of the mark was this unchivalrous suggestion.

U Until May 26 at 52 Brooke’s Mews, W1. Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 7pm; Saturday, noon to 6pm.

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