The Age of Abstraction: Women Artists, Graves Gallery, Sheffield

The Age of Abstraction: Women Artists, Graves Gallery, Sheffield

The exhibition at Graves Gallery, Sheffield, entitled The Age of Abstraction: Women Artists includes various pieces  from artists Sonia Delaunay, Gillian Ayres and Tess Jaray. Delaunay was the first to create something new – a “visual language”. As the first piece to be seen when entering the gallery, it’s striking colour palette moves around similar colours. Blues and greens construct rhythmic circular shapes.

The artist, who was the first living female artist to have her work exhibited in the Louvre, attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Germany, before moving to Paris where she was able to exhibit her art in a gallery, which belonged to her then husband. She shortly divorced him after meeting her second husband, with whom she found an art collaborator, later moving into abstraction  after making a quilt for her new son’s crib. It was at this crucial turning point that she experimented with a clear and defined sense of shape within her work.

Gillian Ayres first learnt of abstract art when she was in school, inspired by the philosophy of Freiderich Frobel and was consequently accepted to Slade School of Fine Art but, too young to attend, she attended the Camberwell School of Art in 1978 instead. Ayres paints using non-geometric styles and has experimented with acrylic paints and oil paints.

Tess Jaray’s pieces at first seem very introverted, however looking closer you can see the colours she chooses to use are daring, almost avant-garde in their expression. The artist uses geometric shapes she has carved out in a few areas where the colours can be seen, whilst the shapes themselves are sharp and fierce. It is easy to appreciate these works and the reasons behind their production.

There is something poignant about these women artists having their own exhibition, not simply included in the rest of the abstraction exhibition.  Perhaps centred around female empowerment, the group work creates of tone of pride and self-confidence that pervades the bold, lavish pieces. Collectively featuring brash colours, some are inherently harsh and irrevocably dark, whilst others take hold of much more vibrant compositions. The almost aggressive placing of the lines and patterns give a sense of how these artists wanted to break through the new-age concept of abstraction. Significant to note is the striking nature of the pieces which abhor softness and stereotypical femininity.

Bronte Keefe

Until 25 June at Graves Gallery, Sheffield

1. Red Screen by Sandra Blow © Sandra Blow Estate