Prompted by the recent passing of renowned British art critic and curator Guy Brett, 'The Pioneers' is a series of online shows paying tribute to his ground-breaking research and work, as a champion of the avant-garde and some of the most experimental art ever made. Second in the series is a virtual exhibition of work by Rose ENGLISH, featuring some of her earliest works from the 1970s that illustrates Brett's description of her practice as being on the 'borderline of playing and being.' The exhibition will also include a new print realised especially for the presentation.
Emerging from the conceptual art, dance and feminist art scenes of the 1970s, English is best known for her contributions to the development of performance art in Britain. While she has developed an extensive interdisciplinary practice over the past 40 years, based largely around performance and dance, as Guy Brett writes in his survey of English's work Abstract Vaudeville: 'Rose has never repeated a successful act, or rested with a signature formula, but has always moved onto new realms.'
English's friendship with Brett began in the 1980s and continued until his death in early 2021. The pair embarked on a forty-year professional relationship–a rich source of inspiration for both artist and critic. A regular guest at English's early performances, Brett helped shed light on the originality and complexity of English's work, even collaborating on a performative piece in Tina Keane's video David Medalla Teaching Guy Brett and Rose English to Teach the Boogie Woogie (1994), shown by Medalla as part of his Mondrian Fan Club New Year's Eve performance.
English's unique theatrical performances in unusual venues with live animal sidekicks, show an artist willing to break from the newly formed narratives of performance art. Photographic documentation of past performances, intimate ceramics, and small works on paper featured in Part II: Pioneers capture her long-standing passion for choreographed motion and a sense of circus, cabaret and magic. Delicate materials, whether lace or porcelain, together with careful staging and evocative poses evoke the fairy-tale nature of English's practice whilst stating something more profound about feminisms, femininities and friendship.
Majesty and play extend into English's choreographed equestrian performances. The stateliness of horses, with the pomp and ceremony of horse shows and the power of female camaraderie, take centre stage in her seminal performance art piece, Quadrille (1975), which here is represented by a silent video of the event. A larger installation including costumes worn by the performers and photographic documentation of the event are held in the Tate Collection. A comment on the class system in the U.K., horses also stand-in for the breeding lines of females, as epitomised in the newly released print Tessa Pregnant with Joseph (1974/2021) in which small, white ceramic horses surround a heavily pregnant and nude Tessa.
Also included in Part II: Pioneers are photographs and ceramics made for and deriving from another early performance by English: A Divertissement (1973). Lace veils–appearing as if fabric yet sculpted from clay–precariously hang from the ceiling while the artist as dancer poses and performs behind the curtain. Playing with audience perceptions, the work offers insights into the origins of making things that lies at the root of the artist's oeuvre. In her series of four untitled photo-collages from 1974, English similarly explores awareness through sequencing, mixing still and moving images to create cinematic-like effects on paper.
Using models that were often friends, family members, and many times, herself, the motifs and references that appear in English's early vignettes–dancers, wings, feathers, curtains and veils as seen in her painted Porcelain Dancers or Small Porcelain Pieces (Collage) (all 1973)–repeatedly appear in later works, together with allegorical references to folklore and Greek mythology and ongoing fascination with philosophy and the deconstruction of stereotypes.
Press release courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery.