In September two years ago THE GENERALIST published four posts under the banner THE FUTURE IS FEMALE, profiling women artists and reviewing a clutch of marvellous books on them.
Carolyn Trant's new book 'Voyaging Out' [just published by Thames & Hudson] is an important and welcome addition to the literature. It is also an excellent complement to Whitney Chadwick's 'Women, Art and Society' [also published by T&H/6th Edition] which takes a broader overview in time and space.
This beautiful and important history of 'British Women Artists from the Suffrage to the Sixties' is a remarkable piece of work by an art practitioner (not a critic or an academic) whose work combines art and crafts. In addition, her wide-ranging activities include teaching, creating artist's books, community printmaking and much more.
As this book demonstrates, Carolyn is a fine writer, an extremely thorough researcher and someone who has acquired all this knowledge not by rehashing existing research but by interviewing and intermingling with the living relatives of so many of the women featured in her narratives.
The book consist of 18 chunky chapters that lead us, largely chronologically, through some 50 years and introduces us to what must be 100 or more female artists and craft workers most of which one has not come across before. The many biographical portraits are set in their context and carefully stitched together to provide a broader tapestry of the network of artistic groups and movements. Chapters investigate women as war artists, as political activists, as surrealists, as muses. She investigates artists' partnerships, the plus and minuses of working from studios or domestic settings, women artists as teachers, and women who played the art world successfully and had an influence. In summary, she provides us with a totally alternative view of art history that changes one's perception and enriches one understanding of the period.
The book itself is a fine object, with readable typography set on a cream paper stock which provides a perfect backdrop for the colourful illustrative content which must amount to some 150 paintings, portraits and illustrations - a feast for the eye.
The cover features a painting called 'Dorset' painted by Evelyn Dunbar, the only salaried woman war artist in the Second World War which 'seems an image of relief after the trauma of war - the land has survived.'
There is so much in this book to take on board that repeated readings will be required to fully grasp this new narrative. A banquet of richness best digested slowly. I have no doubt it will be widely and wildly appreciated by female artists of today who will draw fresh inspiration from Carolyn Trant's valuable work.