Beautiful and damned

The rich and famous of 1920s era Hollywood appeared to have it all - but artist Pam Glew's new exhibition examines the curse of the seemingly blessed
  • @matildbattersby

Artist Pam Glew's third London solo exhibition examines what F. Scott Fitzgerald described as the 'beautiful and damned' stars of silent movies in the roaring Twenties.

It features portraits of Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich and other iconic faces from the era with notorious addictions, troubled pasts and relationships or roguish tendencies.

Her work examines the notion of beauty as a curse. Several high profile names from Twenties Hollywood committed suicide or died in dubious circumstances: Lupe Velez is thought to have died with her head in the toilet after taking an overdose, Olive Thomas, ‘the original flapper’, died accidentally after ingesting mercury, and Peg Entwistle dramatically jumped to her death from atop the Hollywood sign.

"The tragedy amongst the beauty is what has inspired this show," Glew said. "It is the sharp contrast between a blessed life and one that ends in scandal, hedonism or destitution.”

Glew used her trademark medium of bleach to distress vintage fabrics until a likeness appeared from amid the pattern. She has used valuable antique botanical ‘crewel work’ fabrics from 1930s and American quilts from 1920s are all used in a similar way to the ‘flag series’. Rather than add pigment, Glew takes away the pigments in layers, creating ghostly figures, which appear almost woven into the cloth.

These imperfect and ethereal renditions of faces normally so glossy and flawlessly smiling onscreen are a contrast to the seemingly carefree culture of the post-Great War era and are a succinct comment about the mixed blessing beauty can bestow.

Beautiful and Damned is at Mauger Modern Art in London 25 May to 29 May,