Life is Still Life

September 16, 2022 - February 12, 2023

Life is Still Life presents an exciting selection of modern and contemporary works by women artists in the genre of still life. Throughout the history of art, still life has been denigrated and dismissed, largely because of its associations with women and the home. Despite this, still life has been the site of radical experiments with form and meaning and a way for artists to explore broad questions about life, death, gender and the self.

The exhibition brings together works by 15 artists created between the 1940s and the present day in a range of mediums including painting, photography, video and ceramics. It features key works from The Women’s Art Collection by artists including Shani Rhys James, Margaret Thomas and Rachel Nicholson, alongside major loans from artists, galleries and private collections. These include recent works in painting and photography by contemporary artists such as Hilary Pecis, Joy Labinjo, and Sekai Machache, as well as Sam Taylor-Johnson’s iconic video work, Still Life (2001). In a newly commissioned ceramic work, Katy Stubbs deconstructs the traditional still life and transforms it into the tragic narrative of a budgerigar. The exhibition’s title, taken from Charlotte Brontë’s novel Villette (1853), speaks to the enduring significance of the genre and its ability to address broad existential questions while depicting the minutiae of everyday life.

The artworks on display contend with the paradoxes at the heart of still life – a genre which encompasses the private and the public, nature and culture, life and death. In their compositions, the artists play and experiment with scale, perspective and colour. They pare back and abstract their scenes, or fill them with multiple, competing layers. They freeze moments in time or create a dynamism that challenges the idea of ‘stillness’. They integrate paintings-within-paintings or self-portraits, blurring boundaries between genres. The artists look back at the history of still life, often using the traditional symbols of the Dutch Golden Age vanitas paintings – mirrors, clocks and rotting fruits – intended to remind viewers of their own mortality. At the same time, they comment on pressing current issues, including climate change, the pandemic and the legacies of colonialism.

The exhibition is curated by Naomi Polonsky, Assistant Curator at The Women’s Art Collection

Artists: Maisie Cousins, Phyllis Floyd, Maeve Gilmore, Joy Labinjo, Anna Liber Lewis, Harriet Macaree, Sekai Machache, E.Q. Nicholson, Rachel Nicholson, Arlie Panting, Hilary Pecis, Shani Rhys James, Katy Stubbs, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Margaret Thomas.

Public Programme: The exhibition is accompanied by a public programme of both online and in-person events, including tours, talks, workshops and panel discussions. For more information and to book tickets, please click this link or follow us on social media.

Main image: Maisie Cousins, Tiger Morse, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and TJ Boulting