Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy critique at Whitechapel Gallery


ileen Agar’s sculpture Angel of Anarchy started as a clay bust of the Argentinian-British artist’s partner, poet Joseph Bard, in 1936. After it experienced been forged in plaster, nevertheless, Agar uncovered it “looked like a death sculpture”.

She introduced it vividly to lifetime making use of, between other items, black fur, seashells, gemstones and a seagull cranium. It adorned the catalogue for a 1937 Surrealist exhibition in London.

The operate that provides the Whitechapel’s survey show its name is a 2nd variation of the missing original, from 1940. Agar hoped it would be “more astonishing, powerful… additional malign”. This time, she remodeled it with ostrich feathers evoking hair, a blindfold of Chinese silk, bark fabric wound tightly around the neck and African beads dangling at the back of the head. It is a radical, uncanny item even now.

Anarchy “was in the air in the late thirties”, Agar said – a response against fascist regimes rising in Europe. But there’s also a private revolt at engage in: Agar transforms a man’s head, subverting the Surrealist gender electric power-play, creating Bard her muse.

Photograph of Agar wearing Ceremonial Hat for Feeding on Bouillabaisse, 1936

/ Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Photographs

Angels were symbols of female electrical power, used by other fantastic Surrealist gals like Leonor Fini, and Agar espoused a utopian vision that she called “womb-magic”, wherever the revelations of psychoanalysis – the unleashing of the unconscious – would overthrow male “hysterical militarism” in favour of a “feminine imagination”.

You see it yet again in Ladybird (1936), the place Agar transforms her own graphic, drawing over a photograph Bard took of her, bare and in potent sunlight, with swirling black and white lines, sorts evoking maritime animals, starfish and anemones, and the eponymous insect.

Agar’s Surrealism was remarkably personal, impressed by organic kinds nevertheless rooted, way too, in culture, ancient and present day. She’s at her ideal when utilizing assemblage, like in the marvellous Maritime Collage (1939), where sea snakes and molluscs writhe inside of the silhouettes of historic busts. Agar seemed practically easily in a position to evoke the irrational and the unconscious through juxtaposing numerous objects and pictures.

Even when using paint, she collages forms, as in Quadriga (1935), in which the silhouettes of horses heads from the Parthenon are loaded with looping and geometric styles, evocations of figures, cities and landscapes.

Collective Unconscious, 1977

/ Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images

Quadriga treads a line concerning Surrealism and abstraction. As Agar claimed: “we wander on two legs and, for me, 1 is abstract, the other surreal”. Across her job, she grapples with this duality it is a vastly successful rigidity. She brilliantly photographed hulking rocks she noticed in Brittany in 1936 since of their immense, proto-modernist sculptural electrical power and due to the fact they have been like “prehistoric monsters”. In dreamlike paintings, figures are fragmented in a Cubist style.

Through and immediately soon after the Second Globe War that fragmented nevertheless harmonious language continued to create. It was only all around the 1960s that her function misplaced its forceful impetus, drifting toward decoration. Nevertheless, there were occasional gems all the way up to her demise in 1991.

But element of this show’s electrical power is its reflection of uncomfortable experiments, artistically and intellectually, together with supreme successes. It evokes an elastic, inquisitive, brilliant thoughts and a singular creative voice.