Monday, 8 November 2010


 pencil, 47.5 x 62.5 cm
                                                 JERWOOD SPACE, LONDON 8.11.10
This drawing was shortlisted  for this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize (which goes on tour in 2011). One critic wrote ‘Nina Fowler has produced a beautiful drawing of three women, Submission, in sharply defined pencil relief. What is their connection? We shall never know why they look so yearning’.

I can well believe there are cultural references which escape me every day but at face value this one looks simple: Rudolph Valentine (1895 – 1926), Clark Gable (1901 – 1960), and Marlon Brando (1924-2004) are film idols who span the 20th century when a new sort of fame became available to performers through cinema. It crossed continents and lasted tens of years, not tens of months. When Valentino died aged 31 there were riots and hysterical collapses and wild rumours about secret outside malevolence, something not unknown in this country not so long ago. The artist herself has produced Valentino’s Funeral, a collection of pencil and graphite drawings of the movie gods and goddesses of the Hollywood age who attended.

So here we have three beautiful portraits - like frames from a film - of women filled with yearning for their pop idol, a yearning which can never be satisfied. On the left is blind tearful adoration, a woman rising up to assure us that she is intends to be left comfortless.  On the right an enigmatic woman lies on her belly, waiting.  The woman at the centre looks back into the picture, warm and safe, passive and patient. While a camera gives us flesh and blood and oil gives us permanence, a mere pencil makes these portraits ethereal, full of space. Three Titanias, perhaps?

These women do not have their feet on the ground.  They are all lying on some sort of bed or couch which are things that in real life most people use for most of the time as a place for sleeping or talking. But in art you rarely get beds without sexual intent: if that’s absent the subject is likely to be lying there wanly dying or just plain dead. Women lying on beds or the floor have been widely used in advertising too.

So sexual intent is registered but why is the title Submission? Fowler is after something stronger than vague girlish longings which easily vanish. These women cannot free themselves from the allure. They adore, they empty themselves, they are glad to be passive victims. In real life submission is not pretty or charming or even fun. It’s deeply serious. It has financial and political implications. In the wrong hands it can have terrible consequences. 

What are these pretty girls doing? Will anyone draw them in 10 years’ time?

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