ANTHEA ALLEY was a natural artist who showed no strain in her responses and found magic in places of interest to her. She is chiefly known for her sculpture, in which she was self-taught. One series of sculptures followed a visit to Egypt, using beautiful juxtapositions of sand and pyramid shapes. Another was of waterfalls. Her ideas flowed and extended into strange materials: gauze, steel or rubber, all handled with skill.
Alley studied painting at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art, but she began making sculpture in 1957, modelling birds and animals closely related to those in her paintings. A favourite subject was cats, which she adored: cats stretching, washing themselves and arching their backs. But her work soon became completely abstract. She taught herself to weld and made a number of remarkable sculptures out of scrap metal which seemed to grow almost organically in the course of making. At the same time her paintings began to be thickly encrusted with sand and sometimes had objects attached to their surfaces, so that they too became almost sculptural.
Her first one-woman exhibition, at the Molton Gallery, London, in 1960, was followed by the award in 1961 of a painting prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, and for a time her work became quite widely known. She had half-a- dozen further exhibitions in the 1960s and early 1970s, including several shared with Gillian Ayres; and she also taught for several years at Bath Academy, Corsham.
Though her later works tended to become more clear-cut and sometimes almost minimal and geometrical, her fascination with improvisation and the use of strange materials remained. Some of her late works, both paintings and sculptures, were inspired by her experiences of travelling in deserts. Few, however, have ever been publicly exhibited. It was not in her character to push herself forward.
Anthea Alley was full of wonder and dreams, an encyclopaedia of strange facts. Conversation filled with her wit, curious invention and kindness was one of the pleasures of the day. Her visits to my studio were a godsend. Her comments on my work and unerring sense of what was happening in the art world were sharp and at times wildly entertaining. An intrepid traveller, she would take me, crammed into the untidy chaos of her car, to out-of-the-way galleries and studios I would never have found on my own.
I loved her work. As an artist she was amongst the best of her generation.
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