In Episode 21 of The Great Women Artists Podcast, Katy Hessel interviews the brilliant Whitechapel Gallery curator, Laura Smith on the acclaimed surrealist EILEEN AGAR!
One of THE leading artists of the 20th century, Agar’s extensive seven-decade career spanned vibrant painting, collage, and found objects. It saw her create monumental four-metre wide canvases, to plaster heads, infused with feathers, diamonds, ribbons, and bows that defied all gender stereotypes.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, Agar grew up in a strict, traditional household with a mother who wanted her to be married off. But Eileen had different thoughts. Running away to The Slade in the 1920s, Eileen was taken with the flamboyancy and eccentricity artists had to offer. But again, she was fed up with the traditions of art, and fled to Paris after destroying all her art prior to 1926.
In Paris she thrived. Mixing with the Cubists and Surrealists, with whom she learned composition, form, and juxtaposition of colour. Returning to London in 1930, Agar created some of her most pivotal artworks, such as Three Symbols – a colossal painting that fused Greek antiquity, industrial modernity, to the feminist statement of the ‘three patriarchal pillars’ – Angel of Anarchy, and The Autobiography of an Embryo.
Always experimenting in the most bizarre and wonderful of ways, obsessing over found objects which she fused together to create a whole new dialogue and language, Agar was always inherently surreal without even meaning to be. In the 30s she garnered huge critical success and was included in the monumental Surrealist exhibitions around the world.
However, with the imminence and outbreak of war. Everything changed.
I LOVED interviewing Laura for this episode, who has curated Eileen’s work in numerous exhibitions including the staggering, Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings. Listen now to discover the eccentric life of one of the greatest – and sometimes overlooked – artist who deserved every recognition possible!
Thank you for listening!! Works discussed in this episode:
This episode is sponsored by the National Art Pass and the Affordable Art Fair!
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Katy Hessel: @thegreatwomenartists / @katy.hessel
Sound editing by Amber Miller (@amber_m.iller)
Artwork by @thisisaliceskinner
Music by Ben Wetherfield