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          The historical canon has a tendency to highlight a select few women artists, reducing them to representatives of their gender and overshadowing the myriad talented women whose works have been lost or forgotten, an oversight that undermines the true influence women artists have always had on the evolution of art. In deliberate contrast, Tactically Necessary brings together five women artists, all graduates of the Royal College of Art 2023, to investigate the symbiotic relationship between structured processes and intuitive responses through the lens of abstraction. By combining distinctive methodologies with spontaneous reactions in their creative processes, each artist navigates the interplay between freedom and control with the intention of identifying the elusive moment where painting transitions into an instinctive flow-state, elevating mark-making beyond its initial procedural boundaries. While they share a common theme, the diversity in their works shows ongoing innovation and uniqueness, actively challenging the historical tendency towards marginalisation.

          Annice Fell (B.1997) employs a unique structural monoprinting technique to initiate the surface of her work, which is then subjected to impulsive reactions. Describing her art as a 'discovery and exploration of surface and space,' Fell strives to uncover both transient and enduring states of mind through spontaneous mark-making. She unravels puzzles that present themselves in the production process, revealing images that could be seen as simultaneously evoking landscapes and architecture. Fell intuitively responds to colour relationships and forms found in the initial markings, resulting in a dynamic exploration of the self.

          Echoing the structural foundations of Fell’s monoprint technique, Heather Green (B.1993) begins by utilising a deliberately constrained set of conceptual rules within her practice. These guidelines enable Green to challenge authority from within, reflecting a personal desire to resist the conventions of conformity. Her paintings, borne from the internal conflicts of total surrender and rigid control, comprise the natural tensions inherent in this stance. Green believes that painting is coloured by the metaphysical frameworks of emotion and information that affect the painter at work, weaving these influences through her work via a ritualistic engagement with news media. Incorporating text fragments with social and political resonance, as well as humour, extracted from specific sources during the creative process, she embeds her paintings in the fabric of human existence.

          Pandora Covell (B.2000) is driven by an intuitive quest for interconnectivity between objects, actions and marks, allowing her to seamlessly transition between various mediums such as painting, collage, sculpture, and installation. She explores a vast landscape of possibilities by gathering found objects, utilising the raw matter as catalysts for an expansive investigation into materiality. This fluidity between mediums grants Covell the freedom to intuitively respond to the inherent entropy within her collections of objects. Her practice could be seen as an exploration of transformation, wherein the artist continuously weaves an infinite web of connections existing between each object and mark, resulting in an intricate labyrinth that defies resolution.

          Transformation also features prominently in the work of Savannah Marie Harris (B.1999), as she constantly forms and reforms the surface, inviting the viewer to explore past, present and a possible future of each work. Harris employs a process that mirrors a stream of consciousness, forging pathways through time and memory on the surface, intuitively drawing connections between light, colour, form and space. She strives to locate a moment where the physical act of painting effortlessly transcends into spiritual expression and memories and emotions weave through the rich tapestry of each composition.

          Exploring materiality and the self is similarly key for Sophia Pauley (B.1994) as she draws from elements of painting, sculpture, and mark making. Her artistic processes border on the obsessive, embodying the labor-intensive nature of production. Within these physically demanding processes, she strives to uncover a moment of creation where the ‘body and mind are in perfect synchrony’, a state that allows her to delve into subconscious automatic production. This state elicits a strong sense of nostalgia in Pauley, reconnecting her with intense emotions reminiscent of her time in elite performance sport. Pushing beyond the boundaries of traditional painting, Pauley's work often extends across three dimensional and floor based works.

          In recent years, the art world has been revisiting the history of art and re-establishing recognition for women who were written out of the historic canon. This can be seen in popular publications such as Katy Hessel’s ‘The Story of Art Without Men’, through to full scale all-female exhibitions like Whitechapel’s ‘Action, Gesture, Paint: Women artists and Global Abstraction 1940-1970’. Yet there is a debate about whether these efforts truly support present-day women artists or if these efforts are simply another commercial trend that aims to satisfy a fickle art market which only desires to create positive PR for itself. Feminist art historian Griselda Pollock argues that all-female shows such as the Whitechapel’s are ‘tactically necessary’ to ensure that our understanding of the role of women throughout art history is as extensive as their male co-creators’. However, she also acknowledges that these shows could serve to exacerbate the ‘two tier system’ between the ‘traditional male artist’ (typically white, heterosexual and Western) and everybody else. While this is a valid concern, I would argue that it is a problem for when real equitable progress has been made towards balancing the books of the institutions and the market itself.

          If there is any doubt as to whether present day all female shows are indeed ‘tactically necessary’ we can simply examine the current art climate: accurate to April 2022, 78% of London galleries represent more male than female; as of January 2023 only 5% of London galleries can claim to have parity within their collections. While it remains the case that the art world cannot claim real equality for women artists, we will continue to stand against discrimination and carve out our own space within institutions to ensure that we cannot be written out of the history we have always held an equal share of once again.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Written by Heather Green

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