Nancy Spero exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery

Feminist. Artist. Vocal anti-war crusader. Nancy Spero’s art gives you a direct insight into who she was and what she stood for.

The American artist’s exhibition at the Serpentine Art Gallery, London features a mix of her work. As you enter the gallery you are greeted by a video of Nancy showing women how to invigorate the womanly presence and expel the male one from their life. It consists of her hanging up intimate garments all over the room.

The first and most dramatic piece is what is entitled ‘Maypole: take no prisoners II 2008’. It’s overwhelming as it casts a gloom over the entire room. Severed heads painted on flat steel pieces hanging from ribbons, that’s what Spero thinks of war. The decapitated heads are painted in sombre dark colours, with thick brush strokes that exude a certain rawness. It looks almost as if the artist has declined the use of paintbrushes and used her fingers instead. The faces aren’t intricately painted but manage to convey expressions of pain, emptiness and almost look skeletal. Almost all the faces look identical, a subtle hint that perhaps war changes everyone, in the same way?

Moving on is a collection of her paintings on paper. Among this collection are what she entitles ‘lovers/fornicators’ and ‘great mother’. All these paintings have the same quality about them, they are very basic and almost childlike in their execution. They lack detail but still manage to tell a story. Again, she has used only blacks, browns and greys in the pictures.

The brush strokes are almost conflicting, criss- crossing each other. Its as if her use of colour and brush strokes expresses her anger, frustration and discontent with society. Great mother is a silhouette of a woman, lying on her side with four tiny faces under her. It looks almost like a bitch birthing puppies, perhaps alluding to the fact that she was appalled at the way women were treated in society, only meant for giving birth and taking care of young one’s.

Her paintings have a liberal use of what some would call offensive language ‘fuck you’ makes its presence felt more than once through the exhibition. She isn’t afraid to use controversial images as one of her paintings shows swastika’s on top and the bottom half of a man’s body with Swastika’s coming out of his penis, almost like he’s urinating them.

Another series of paintings are more war driven, they follow the same dark colours and rough strokes format. ‘Sperm bomb’ represents her anger towards men and war. Her paintings through her career make strong statements against male dominance, the futility of war and the suppression of women.

‘Azur 2002’ is a serious departure from the style we’ve seen so far. The paintings are bursting with colour, heavily detailed and consist of images from Egyptian and Greek mythology, which are a stark contrast from her realistic subjects. Here she uses symbolism to communicate while her works above were more obvious and to the point.

She rarely painted light subjects, if you want to see rainbows and flowers this show isn’t for you. Her technique consisted of more than just images, she often combined them with collages and text. This text was strategically chosen and picked to drive her point home.

Through her 50-year career, Nancy Spero was a crusader for what she believed in. She passed away in 2009 and the exhibit at the Serpentine is the first showing of the artist’s work in the UK since her death.

Nancy Spero

Serpentine Gallery

3rd March- 1st May


Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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