British Medical Journal
a selection of critical responses
of Ghislaine Howard's exhibitions:
365 at the Imperial War Museum North, March - September 2009
- Salford Online
has a feature on the exhibition and a video interview with Tom Rodgers.
has a feature on The
Stations of the Cross here.
on Ghislaine Howard's working
on the maternity unit residency - Daily Telegraph,
29 January 1993
- In Conversation with Philip
Vann - The Artist's and Illustrator's
Howard on the genesis of a double portrait - the
- Ghislaine Howard on self-portraiture - the artist, May and June 1986
Exhibiting gender - Sarah
on Ghislaine Howard and Jacob Epstein - 1997
Cleft in the rocks,
is a figurative artist who finds such passionate excitement in the
glories of colour and light that the well-worn distinction seems
Her images work on both levels with equal power: we are swept away by
beauty of the actual paint even before we start to take delight in the
image which she is celebrating.
Her mother and
studies have a quieter beauty,
expressing the protectiveness integral to this age-old symbol, yet in Cleft
in the rocks, Flamborough Head there is a similar sense of
her title to a phrase from
the article of Solomon in the Bible, where the Lover calls to his
his lovely one, hiding in the clefts of the rock" and begs to see her
cuts down into a gleam of deepest
blue, the wild sea caught and held safe between the sunlit masses of
pure rock. It is both landscape and seascape, but it is also something
deeper. It recalls with imaginative intensity the wild spaces of the
untamed and untameable, and the fortress of the cliffs, where the
waters can gently come to rest.
the beauty of the painting,
we are drawn into an awareness of the beauty of repose, protection, and
constant give and take of love. Howard clearly loves what she paints,
what she paints is in itself, in a strange symbolic fashion, love also.
Sea and stone
unite in a dazzle of chromatic
clarity. The cleft has an almost erotic splendour, but it is an
of the profoundest purity. The azure of the waters reflects up onto the
chalky smoothness of the cliffs, the head jutting out into the sea to
the wash and be purified by it. Both give; both receive; the essence of
a love relationship.
Sister Wendy Becket
Women Critics Select Women
The Bruton Street Gallery, London, 1992)
Clark, The Guardian
in with with my mum to the City
Art Gallery for my occasional look at the Lowry room, I'm disappointed
to find that it's disappeared. Why?
In its place,
until April 25 anyway, is
a series of gutsy paintings and drawings by Ghislaine Howard. Called A
Shared Experience, Paintings and Drawings, the work is the
a four-month artist's residency at St Mary's Maternity Unit during
Howard had the opportunity to record the dramatic life of the
services, the central delivery unit and the special care baby unit. One
is struck immediately on entering the gallery that this is a
almost shockingly, rare subject in modern Western painting.
Then this is
because of the comparative
exclusion of women's subjective experience from the art arena until
So here are
entitled Inserting the
Catheter, Before the Caesarean and Breech
Birth. If it
weren't for the subject matter Howard might fit neatly within the
serious painterly tradition of Bomberg, Auerbach and Kossoff. Her
are wild networks of charcoal gestures. Her oil paintings are weaved
broad dynamic brushstrokes that narrowly avoid stylistic flamboyance.
So it's through Howard's moving embodiment of
empathy with her subjects that she really makes her individual mark.
And several images here - for instance one painting entitled Second
Dayshowing a baby's top heavy sleeping head, already weary
with the weight of life, cradled in the mother's giant hands - are so
intimately tender in approach, they could hardly have been painted by
any male, at any time, anywhere.
29 March 1993
Crossley, Women's Art
A Shared Experience
on Ghislaine Howard's work
documenting real life in a busy
EXHIBITION of Ghislaine Howard's work
was the result of four months spent as artist-in-residence at a women's
hospital in central Manchester. The paintings, drawings and etchings
redolent of the atmosphere of the busy maternity unit.
To describe the
as documentary would be to
suggest a level of emotional and intellectual detachment so often found
in artist/observers. On the contrary, Howard became part of the
world of the hospital with its routines and crises. She brought to the
process of observing an unobtrusive and deeply sympathetic
arising from experience in hacing had two babies in the same hospital.
Her desire to
understand her own feelings of fear,
helplessness and joy enabled her to establish close bonds with
mothers. She was allowed extraordinary intimacy with women who came to
take her presence for granted. The time spent listening and watching
well spent and informs the urgent sketches.
There is a rightnessand
accuracy about the
strong strokes which demonstrate a sense of collaboration between
and her women about the boredom of waiting, expecting. It is about the
sense of helplessness and the objectification of the female body when
the hands of medical professionals. The drama of natural childbirth is
juxtaposed to the fearful mysteries of the Caesarian operation. The
figures loom and hover above the patient in anonymous detachment. Back
in the wards the green shapes resolve into nurses, individual and
"the depictions of the events
shown in these paintings and drawings are rare in western art. It is a
salutary thought that an experience that all humans have shared is so
seen in art galleries". Yet walking round the show, the viewer catches
echoes of gestures and poses from the tradition of Renaissance
painting. In part it is because the artist has absorbed some of the
of religious art (she is currently working on a series based on the
of the Cross), but it is also because the actual rituals of delivery,
lifting of the anaesthetised body, the presentation of the Caesarian
share some of choreographed grandeur of a Deposition or a Pieta.
each pregnancy and delivery is unique and individual, it is also
Mancunian audience, registered
in the visitors' book, show a striking lack of embarrassment, either
the gynaecological frankness or the emotional transparency of the work.
It is an honest show, deeply felt and compassionately executed; the
has dared not to distance herself.
lectures in art history
at the University of Leicester.
believe themselves to be at the
centre of the artistic universe, and it comes as a rude shock to
talent existing, even flourishing, away from the capital. Ghislaine
has chosen to work in the north-west, within reach of two increasingly
vital cultural centres, Manchester and Liverpool, but even closer to
wild and unpopulated landscapes that recur in her pictures.
Her densely-coloured oil paintings of the
Yorkshire coast and her Derbyshire surroundings, as well as the
domestic landscape of home and family, have featured in more than a
dozen solo and mixed exhibitions in the north of England. During
September , however, the tables are turned and Londoners will get
their first chance to see an extended showing of her work at the Boundary
In the best
sense, these are a young person's
paintings. There is energy, excess and a kind of muscularity in her
untainted by cynicism and art circuit chic.
Ghislaine Howard paints
directly, sometimes furiously, attacking both subject and canvas with a
passion for her colours and her craft. The massiveness of rocks, the
of the sea and the tints of stormy skies are all translated into the
of paint, in a way that sometimes suggests late Bomberg.
As a mother of two young children, Ghislaine
Howard has also set herself the project of responding, in her art, to
the experiences of motherhood and child-rearing. Dramatic charcoal
drawings of parents and their offspring, and delicate, almost miniature
studies of children at play, have often complemented her landscape
repertoire. Drawing, colour and the signature of touch come together in
these elemental subjects, in pictures that could only have been painted
in the late twentieth century.
Aulich, City Life
Howard: Recent Work
Howard's Recent Work
[shows] the dignity of the human figure and an almost French sensuality
in the love and the freedom of the paint.
subject-matter tells of the
artist's pregnancy, and the birth and suckling of her child, while in
bath lies the image of a man in a self-conscious inversion of Bonnard's
theme of the woman in the bath.
in the bath 1984
unorthodox, these pictures are strikingly
original in what they depict within the context of the museum and the
of figure painting.
An extract from Sarah
Hyde's book, Exhibiting
gender, in which she compares
perceptions of the portrayal of pregnancy by Ghislaine
Howard and Jacob Epstein
Exhibiting gender by
University Press, 1997
Howard, b 1953
reason for comparing these two
works is to ask readers firstly, before looking at the answer, to
whether they expect to see a difference in the way this subject is
by a man and a woman, and secondly, once they know the answer, to see
they can detect any difference between the treatment of pregnancy by a
man, who cannot have had any personal experience of the subject, and by
a woman artist who was in fact studying her own pregnant body.
important differences between
these two representations. The first is that [...] one was produced
fifty years earlier than the other. Ghislaine Howard's drawing is in a
style which could have been produced at almost any time this century,
that anyone who had not seen it before would probably find it very
that it was produced recently
is crucial to the comparison between the two works, since it is only in
the last twenty years or so that significant numbers of women artists
begun to explore pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing in their art,
and such subject matter has gradually become acceptable to many art
Part of this
development was the exhibition A
Shared Experience held at Manchester City Art Gallery in
drew on work produced by Ghislaine Howard when working as an artist in
residence in the maternity unit of Saint Mary's Hospital in Manchester.
Howard has said
one of the greatest challenges
she encountered was the fact that she felt she had no artistic
to draw on. She was familiar with centuries of representations of
and children in the 'Madonna and Child' form, and yet had never seen a
Western painting of the most important subject that she was confronted
with at the hospital: a woman giving birth.
differences between the two
works can be found in their physical nature - their size and medium -
the purposes for which they were produced.
under half the size of Epstein's
work, and her chosen medium - charcoal - is, unless sprayed with
impermanent, and has connotations of informality and privacy. The
although standing as a work in its own right, was in fact part of an
series which led to a group of oil paintings charting the physical and
psychological changes which Howard experienced during pregnancy.
however, was produced on a large
scale in the formal and public medium of marble.
differences go some way towards
explaining the vastly different receptions accorded to the two works
they were first produced. Howard's work caused hardly a murmur when it
was purchased for the Whitworth [Art Gallery] in 1989, and likewise
work now provokes few comments from visitors to the Whitworth.
When it was
displayed in 1931 at the Leicester
Galleries in London, however, Genesis provoked
howls of protest
and abuse. The extent of the response prompted Alfred Bossom to
the work in order to tour it around Britain, thus raising a substantial
amount of money for charity by charging a small fee to the crowds of
who flocked to see it. Subsequently the sculpture was shown alongside
works by Epstein to similarly large crowds at Louis Tussaud's Waxworks
on the Golden Mile at Blackpool beach.
reaction, on hearing that his
work was to be shown at Tussaud's, was outrage; however, he later
himself in favour of the work being seen by as many people as possible.
In making this claim, however, the artist showed himself widely out of
step with much contemporary thinking about art.
an earlier work by Epstein -
five figures for the British Medical Association on the Strand - had
that most contemporary critics felt that certain types of art, and in
nude figures, should only be seen in carefully controlled circumstances
by carefully selected people.
Standard declared that 'figures
in an art gallery are seen, for the most part, by those who know how to
appreciate the art they represent' (*Epstein 1963:23), whereas to show
naked figures, as Epstein proposed, on the façade of a
in the Strand, 'To have art of the kind indicated laid bare to the gaze
of all classes, young and old, in perhaps the busiest thoroughfare of
Metropolis... is another matter'.
It was the duty
adult males to control and censor
the kind of art to which the working classes and women were allowed
and Epstein's nudes were 'a form of statuary which no careful father
wish his daughter, or no discriminating young man, his
to see' (Epstein 1963:23).
in which a work of art is interpreted
is, however, created not only by its physical and cultural surroundings
but also by the title appended by the artist or a curator.
not give a title to her work;
the title Pregnant Self-portrait was given by a
curator when it
entered the Whitworth Art Gallery, and presents it as simply an
study of her own pregnancy.
The title Genesis,
however, suggests that
Epstein's work is not about a particular pregnancy, or even about the
of maternity in general, but is instead dealing with a much larger
the 'genesis' of the human race, a universal beginning.
larger aim which brought Epstein
into conflict with so many people amongst Genesis'
In order to express his idea of the primitive beginnings of mankind,
turned for inspiration to art from Africa and the Pacific islands, of
he was a great admirer and collector. However, whereas for Epstein the
work of African sculptors could suggest something fundamental,
in the sense of marking the earliest beginnings, for contemporary
the word 'primitive' meant backward, underdeveloped.
This in turn
constrained the way in which the expression
on the face of Epstein's pregnant woman was interpreted. Whereas
wanted to suggest 'calm, mindless wonder', uneducated in the sense of
being instinctual, not overlaid with the unnecessary trappings of
the racism inherent in so much of British society in the years leading
up to the Second World War meant that most responses to this sculpture
were conditioned by a tendency to see certain facial features - thick
for example - as indicative of a lack of intelligence.
Express headline of 7 February
1931 ran: 'Epstein's bad joke in stone. Mongolian moron that is
(Epstein 1963:274). The choice of the word 'Mongol' here was dependent
not on the actual features of Genesis herself,
since Epstein based
this on studies of African masks, rather than the features of the East
Asian peoples of Mongolia. Instead the reference is again to the
link between non-Western racial types and an assumed lack of
underpinning the labelling of people born with Downes Syndrome as
which has only recently been eradicated from common English usage.
the context of the subject matter
of Genesis this is especially important in that
types are also presented as having not only lesser intelligence but
greater moral and sexual licence. The idea that black men are both more
sexually potent and less restrained than European men can be traced
to the eighteenth century and beyond. In this context Genesis
particular outrage in that a subject matter which Epstein's critics
should be treated with delicacy was mixed with associations of those
of 'primitive' societies which most Westerners liked to congratulate
on having overcome.
insult was not only that this
woman appeared to be non-European and unintelligent; she was also not
and this was if anything the most problematic issue. Epstein was
two fundamental assumptions: that art, and women, should be beautiful.
When told by a friend that most people could not understand why he had
made Genesis so ugly, Epstein, with deliberately
replied that he thought she was beautiful. But in another context he
it clear that he was trying to create an image of feminity that
eschewed contemporary notions of delicacy and beauty.
I felt the necessity for
giving expression to the profoundly elemental in motherhood, the deep
instinctive female, without the trappings and charm of what is known as
feminine... How a figure like this contrasts with our coquetries and
erotic nudes of modern sculpture. (Epstein 1963:139-40)
Here it may be
to draw a comparison
between the response to Epstein's work and that provoked by a modern
of pregnancy. In August 1991 the front cover of Vanity Fair
featured a photograph by Annie Leibovitz of the naked, pregnant actress
Demi Moore. It aroused a storm of protest which has been compared to
caused by the first exhibition of Genesis, but
which in fact contains
minority defending the publication
of the photo were a number who thought it demonstrated that pregnant
could still be beautiful and sexy: 'what a pretty sight it is!', 'Who
women can't... retain their sexuality during pregnancy?' (Vanity
here is that pregnancy entails
a number of changes to a woman's body - swollen abdomen, enlarged
- which conflict fundamentally with the current ideal of slimness as
beauty, propagated by magazines such as Vanity Fair.
the photo of Demi Moore demonstrated that attractiveness to men is
seen as the most important function of both art and a woman's body, in
the latter case overriding any other function, such as that of
If any art form
presents a pregnant woman as unattractive,
for example with what the Daily Telegraph described
in 1931 as Genesis'
'Face like an ape's... breasts like pumpkins... hands twice as large
gross as those of a navvy [and] hair like a ship's hawser' (Epstein
she represents a challenge and a threat.
Hyde is the Curator of Prints and
Drawings at the Courtauld Gallery, University of London.
Epstein, J. , Epstein, An Autobiography(1963),
ed. R. Buckle, London, Vista Books.
Howard Studio Gallery