Laughing While Smashing will be exhibited among work by a group of reknowned female artists & writers in Dear Christine (a tribute to Christine Keeler) conceived and curated by Fionn Wilson which will be touring the UK in 2019/20: Vane (Newcastle upon Tyne) May-June, 2019, Elysium Gallery (Swansea) Oct-Nov, 2019, Arthouse1 (London), Feb-March, 2020.
Hélène Cixous' Écriture féminine is, for me, a most alluring and enduring provocation. When I paint images depicting female pleasure, excessiveness or impropriety I think of Cixous, her ideas and her stories. She shows us how resistance can take so many forms - the cultural prohibitions on women being so numerous. In one essay (Castration or Decapitation?) Cixous tells the story of the Chinese general Sun Tse who decapitates a group of women he is trying to train as soldiers, so disconcerted, so disgusted is he by their persistent laughter and refusal to take his orders seriously. This resonates with me deeply. Acts of political resistance come in many forms and when I paint images of women laughing, eating, reclining, interacting or simply looking, I am always cognisant of the fact that the most seemingly innocuous actions can be subversive. As an image-maker, I am committed to a tradition of oil painting that does not align formally with écriture féminine in terms of its espousal of formal experiment, yet I reserve the right to take what I find useful from any philosophy. I am in profound sympathy with the aims of écriture féminine and I love the provocative clear-sightedness of a writer like Cixous: her work is a spur to me as I pursue my own vision. How then could I not find the surveillance, prohibition and exposure of Christine Keeler deeply compelling, seek to regard her through this prism and offer my pictoral rejoinder? I have always found her associate Mandy Rice-Davies' resistance to shame in the face of such domination fascinating. I have imagined that Keeler might have come to survey her opressors with a measure of Rice-Davies' insouciance. But more than this I have wished that they could have afforded themselves some form of fitting, liberating riposte. In paint, at least, I can bestow them this. The two women in my painting, Laughing While Smashing, are not Keeler and Rice-Davies, despite wearing as they do the approximate attire from the infamous court case. Rather, they are the refracted duplication of a cinematic representation of them, my models chosen for their vague resemblance to the actors Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda from the 1989 film Scandal. They carry in their gaping handbags the repeated, distorted image of Keeler, wrapped loosely around rocks. Some of their luggage is no longer contained within their purses and is instead lying in a pile of broken glass or still lodged in the windows of number 16-18 Beak St, Soho, London, once the Murray's Cabaret Club where Keeler and Davies performed and first met, now one branch of a hamburger chain restaurant. This scene is not, then, one of 1960's reminiscences but is a contemporary street and the neon signs and illuminated doorways of old sleazy Soho seem to be squeezed out to the periphery by the darkened edifice of this new, faceless tenant. But it is only this building which has smashed windows and this counterfeit couple are running across the street, rocks in hand, one arm raised and taking aim. And they are laughing.