Pauline Boty: The marginalised artist of British Pop Art is enjoying a revival

Pauline Boty was a darling of the Swinging Sixties. Now, nearly 50 years after her tragically young death, her extraordinarily vibrant work is enjoying a revival. It’s long overdue

In the flurry of recent exhibitions of British Pop Art, one name keeps recurring with works of astonishing freshness and warmth. It is Pauline Boty, the only woman among the founding members of the movement, who died tragically young, aged only 28, in 1966.

Ignored for decades after her death – it was nearly 30 years before her first picture was shown – a proper retrospective has had to wait until this year with a show which originated in Wolverhampton and has now opened in the Pallant Gallery in Chichester.

Looking at her pictures today, it is simply incredible that it has taken so long. Her gender no doubt partly accounts for her decades of obscurity, as for the revival of interest now. Pop Art started out as a very male-dominated movement and it continued as a chauvinistic and at times crudely objectifying culture. Boty, for all that she was trained at the Royal College of Art alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney, was always slightly the odd one out, too female in her  passions for the men and too feminine in her imagery for her own sex. If women were to be the equal of men, then they had to be as serious as men. Glorying in the sexiness of male pop idols and revelling in the imagery of advertising was doing the cause no good at all.

Times have changed and it is now possible to look on Pauline Boty less as a fellow traveller to the men who led the Pop movement and more as a woman artist who asserted her own sex and sexuality before her time. It’s also possible to see just what a good artist she was in painterly terms. Trained as a stained glass artist, her feel for composition and colour is extraordinarily vibrant, while her ultra-realist faces and figures taken from photographs looks forward to the photorealism of a generation later.

‘The Only Blonde in the World (1963) ‘The Only Blonde in the World (1963)

You can’t take gender out of her equation. She certainly didn’t. But it is also possible to exaggerate it. Her grandmother was an Iranian married to a Belgian sea captain and trader who died shortly after being taken by pirates. Her father, after being shipped around friends and family, settled in south London to become an accountant and an Englishman more English than the English.

With three brothers, including twins, she certainly had to assert herself to make her presence felt at home. Her father expected her to leave school and marry. She declined, going first to Wimbledon School of Art and then the Royal Academy, applying for the stained-glass course as that was the one she was more likely to get into. Whether this was because she was a mere “slip of a girl” who wouldn’t get into the painting course, as later recalled, may or may not have been true. She undoubtedly faced male prejudice, not least because she was blonde and good looking. But her revolt was as much against the claustrophobia of a suburban conventional upbringing as the constraints of the corset.

‘Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies’ (1962-3) (Private collection, estate of Derek Marlowe) ‘Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies’ (1962-3) (Private collection, estate of Derek Marlowe)

Half the pop stars, male and female, who made the Sixties came from similar backgrounds, letting down their hair and strumming their guitars as they enjoyed the first fruits of a generation new to higher education and popular cultural influences from across the Atlantic. One of the pleasures of the exhibition at Pallant House, is to see how quickly she moved in her student work from imitating the works of Cézanne, Bonnard and Chagall that she had seen in Paris to the world of glamour, advertising and pop music she was enjoying as a student.

It was collage, championed by Eduardo Paolozzi at the time, which freed her. As a stained-glass student she readily took to the combinations of block colour and outlined figure which that discipline promoted. ‘Untitled (Girl on the Beach)’ from her first years at the RCA is a conventional, although striking,  picture in the manner of Picasso. Within a year, she was making sophisticated collages, adding actual lace as the frame for a Chagall-like landscape of deep purple and sweepingly brushed green in Untitled (Landscape with Lace) and inserting what was to become her trademark images of the manicured hand and roses representing female sexuality in a Surrealist collage in  Untitled (Pears Inventor) from 1959.

Bliss was it to be alive in the late Fifties when the Sixties were born and Boty, good-looking and ever energetic, joined in the fun, acting in films and revues, stripping off for the popular press, being photographed by David Bailey for ‘Vogue’, appearing as one of the boys in Ken Russell’s seminal film, Pop Goes the Easel and helping found an action group against bad architecture. Perhaps it was all this glamour and performance which has been held against her. Proper artists aren’t supposed to appear in Tit-Bits and Men Only.

‘BUM’ (1966) (Estate of Kenneth Tynan/ artist’s estate) ‘BUM’ (1966) (Estate of Kenneth Tynan/ artist’s estate)

The wonderful thing about Pauline Boty, however, was that she didn’t just live the life but she expressed it in her works. The male artists of the Pop movement, with the exception of her friend Peter Blake, used the imagery of popular culture as a mediated comment on the visual world about. You always feel in their work a standing back by the artist from the work while he considers its composition and effect.

With Boty you feel the artist herself in her emotions. From the moment she started introducing colour into her collages in an expressive manner from 1961, her works are charged with an air of freedom if not abandon. My Colouring Book from 1963, takes the popular song of the time and realizes its lines –“this is the room I sleep in and walk in and weep in and hide in that nobody sees”, “these are eyes that watched him as he walked away, colour them grey” and so forth – in images that are both literal and moody. The Only Blonde in the World (1963) is part of a series on her heroine Marilyn  Monroe in which the ill-fated blonde star is seen striding in the narrow vertical of green abstract painting.

As she matured so she grew bolder in her representation of women’s desires and men’s objectification of them. 5-4-3-2-1, after the song by Manfred Man, has a yellow banner trumpeting “OH, FOR A FU…”. Portrait of Derek  Marlowe with Unknown Ladies sees the subject painted in seductive tones from a publicity photograph while red-lipped, roughly presented female faces leer out from a strip above. It’s a Man’s World II has a central strip of erotic female nudes set against the lake and pavilion of a country estate. Her last picture, commissioned by Kenneth Tynan for his notorious cabaret, Oh! Calcutta! is entitled BUM (1966) and is of just that – a nude female rear painted with high realism and framed by a proscenium arch and the colours of the cabaret.

Her death was tragic. Married to the literary agent Clive Goodwin after a whirlwind romance of only 10 days (she said she married because he was one of the few men interested in her brain) and pregnant, she went for a prenatal check-up to be diagnosed with cancer. She refused treatment for fear that it would damage the foetus and died a few months after giving birth to a daughter. Her paintings and other material ended up in her brother’s barn.

Could she have gone on to bigger things? After this exhibition it is hard not to believe so. Her interest in politics was burgeoning, as a striking picture of Kennedy’s assassination, Countdown to Violence, and a forceful vision of the Castro revolution, Cuba Si, would  suggest. But it is her panache with a photorealist style of figuration set against bold colour and pop imagery which hold such promise for the future.

It’s not a big exhibition. Given the paucity of her surviving work it could not be otherwise. But it is one which leaves you eager for more, more of the pictures she did paint and the ones she didn’t live long enough for.

Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman, Pallant House Gallery (01243 774557) to 9 February

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones