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PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF JANE PERCIVAL
In the late 1950s London was emerging from wartime gloom. Amid a rising sense of optimism and possibility Pauline Boty and Jane Percival, young, serious, ambitious and talented artists, became friends. Their paths had crossed when Pauline Boty, soon to be a founder of British Pop Art movement, was still a diploma student at the Wimbledon School of Art. By chance they met in Paris in 1957 – both travelling alone and soaking up the bohemian atmosphere and revelling in a direct experience of Modernist art in the galleries. They spent a glorious day together, swinging down the boulevards, talking of everything (art, life, men). 'Laughing and enjoying ourselves enormously' remembers Jane. Boty joined the RCA in 1958 and in her second year (Jane was a year ahead) they took a flat together in Southerland Place, Notting Hill Gate. At the time the area was very run down, the grand houses carved up into multi-occupancy, and attracted other avant-garde artists, writers, radical intellectuals for whom Henneky’s Pub became a gathering place. Jane and Pauline were soon regulars. In their flat visitors (including Natalie Gibson studying Textiles at the RCA, see lot 111), lovers and steady boyfriends came and went. Jane recounts an episode when no longer sharing a flat, Pauline brought round a young American singer one evening when she was having a dinner party. Could Jane look after him please as Pauline wanted to spend time with her lover. It was Bob Dylan.
Jane and Pauline discussed their work, analysed their dreams, and, in the context of a male dominated art world, gave each other support. Boty started to produce the first of her highly regarded wall collages (at the time very innovative). She worked a lot at home and Jane, an admired portraitist, was alongside her as she made collages and paintings. Collage, first developed by the Dadaists, was a key artistic response to popular culture with its plethora of mass produced media and, from the early collages by Paolozzi and Hamilton, was a vital medium for Pop. In the 50s painting tuition was figurative, using a limited brown palette but Boty was fortunate, when at Wimbledon, to study with the young tutor Charles Carey who was in touch with the Pop zeitgeist that was gathering around the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the RCA in London. Carey was teaching Stained Glass but encouraged work in all media and set projects for swimming pools and night clubs rather than churches and encouraged the use of collage 'as a way of importing immediate and contemporary imagery’. He introduced students to the collages of Max Ernst and Karl Schwitters, both of whom had an influence on Boty.
During her time at the RCA Boty produced a marvellous collection of collages that were exhibited, after she graduated, at the AIA. Gallery in London in 1961. The show, including Peter Blake who was yet to have a solo, has been heralded as the first ever Pop exhibition. The titles of Boty’s collages, many of them now lost, Is It a Bird, Is It a Plane?, Target for Twisters etc, demonstrate her engagement with Pop Art concerns while they also express her personal interest in dreams and the unconscious. Her collages were very well received: 'a fascinatingly weird account of ourselves, gay and sometimes grave' (Arts Review), 'pungent comment in image and captions' (The Sunday Times). The following year Boty talked through a number of her collages with an avuncular Peter Blake in Ken Russell’s innovative film Pop Goes the Easel.
Pears Inventor is a lovely example where, as in other pieces, Boty revelled in the kind of dramatic, unlikely juxtapositions that collage as a medium facilitated: huge roses and a hand bearing a bar of Pear’s soap loom over the tiny figures of an orchestra of male musicians all in black and white evening dress. Without question we can see the expression of a female sensitivity in both the materials used and the choice of iconography. Here glittery, shiny papers, elsewhere the use of lace appliqued to the surface, eschew the kind of caution that Jann Haworth deemed necessary in her fabric work, which she felt had to be 'tough' and not expose the fact that you were a woman. The delicate manicured female hand used so often as a signifier in advertising is used for the first time here, drawn from a Victorian source evoking Ernst’s work. It became a leitmotif in Boty’s oeuvre, as did the rose, which become an emblem of female sexuality and sensuality, sometimes rampant, later contained and compressed in and finally banished from It’s A Man’s world I and It’s A Man’s world II – epoch making late paintings.
Jane remained close friends with Pauline right up to her tragically early death aged only 28. She hugely appreciating both Boty’s work and joie de vivre, and cherished letters and examples of her oeuvre.
We are very grateful to Dr Sue Tate, author of Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman, Wolverhampton, 2013, for preparing this catalogue entry.