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Eileen Agar Paintings+, Bio, Ideas | TheArtStory
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Connoisseur of the ordinary
Pre-War Paris. Agar's practice was diverse, moving freely through painting, photography, collage and sculpture, but was bound together by an emphasis on the germinal power of imagination, and by a love of natural and organic forms.
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Her memoir, A Look at My Life , published shortly before her death, provided vivid insights into the lost bohemian enclaves of pre-war Paris and London, and ensured that Agar's work continued to be discussed and displayed after her death. Eileen Agar was born into a wealthy British family, her mother the heir to a biscuit company, her father the manager of a successful windmill and irrigation systems company, Agar Cross. It was his business that took the family to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Agar spent her early years.
She later characterized her childhood as privileged and eccentric - "full of balloons, hoops and St. Bernard dogs" - and claimed that whenever the family travelled back to Britain her mother insisted on bringing a cow for milk, and an orchestra so that they would be surrounded by music. At six years old, Eileen was sent to England to attend boarding school, where her artistic potential was recognized and encouraged by a teacher.
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At the outbreak of World War One in she was sent briefly to attend a more rurally located institution, before being moved on again to Paris, to attend finishing school. The below artworks are the most important by Eileen Agar - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist. To the right is a loose depiction of Notre Dame Cathedral, and a fleur-de-lis symbol.
Agar later described Three Symbols as her "first attempt at an imaginative approach to painting", and we can certainly sense the influence of Surrealism on the ambiguous but symbolically allusive compositional elements. The "three symbols" tie together references to a range of cultures and religions, suggesting an attempt to access a kind of storehouse of universal images: the pillar is a reference to Greco-Roman culture, the cathedral to the medieval Christian Gothic, and the bridge, with its Eiffel-esque cross-hatches, a homage to the French architect's Garabit Viaduct, and a symbol of modernity.
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The use of a trio of compositional elements implies an underlying reference to the holy trinity. This is a work that stands at the forefront of British Surrealism, painted five years before the poet David Gascoyne penned his "First English Surrealist Manifesto" , for example.
It is also work of personal significance, representing Agar's attempt to strike out in a new artistic direction which was only unconsciously configured by Surrealism. She later wrote of this piece that "although the result was in some ways surreal, it was not done with that intention. However Surrealism was in the air, for painters and poets in France, and later in England, were kissing that sleeping beauty troubled by nightmares; and it was the kiss of life that they gave.
The silhouette is cut from a book on gemstones, and the grid-like arrangement of numbered stones jars with the compositional arrangement implied by the portrait. As the writer Michel Remy notes, "what is striking is the contrast between the strict arrangement of stones - as in all classificatory books - printed with their numbers, and the almost arbitrary outline of the face which cuts into the established, orderly arrangement of the stones, five stones being reduced to fragments by the scissors.
After the end of World War I, a new discourse emerged from the West. As Britain and France secretly redrew the Middle Eastern map, dividing it into several nation states, the new formation was presented as a viable solution to secure long-lasting peace in the region. But it was an illusion. The Middle East without the Ottoman Empire as imagined by the West did not turn out to be a peaceful one. A century later, the region is still highly contested between various regional and international powers.
The Great War ended up impacting the composite culture of the Middle East that was secured under the Ottoman reign. Though Bese died as a man with several battle scars on his body and soul, he was able to accommodate his protest against the war. Subscribe to our Youtube channel for all latest in-depth, on the ground reporting from around the world.
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