Drawing women back into the history of art
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Drawing women back into the history of art
Coral Woodbury, Louise Bourgeois, 2020 © Coral Woodbury (courtesy HackelBury Fine Art).

LONDON.- HackelBury Fine Art, London is presenting: Palimpsest, a solo exhibition of new work by Coral Woodbury, and her first solo exhibition in the UK and Europe, in which her allegiance to people’s stories and making the invisible visible permeate three bodies of work. In Revised Edition the artist redraws the history of art from a feminist perspective; in Palimpsest she illuminates the transformative power of time and life experience and in the series In Place she employs the language of colour as a record of cross- cultural travel. The title of the exhibition Palimpsest reflects this idea of a journey through time, life and place.

Books are a recurring theme in Woodbury’s work. Their structure becomes a composition with which to work, providing “a tension between text and image”. Her fascination with palimpsests (ancient parchment manuscripts which were reused over centuries) lies in the connection of humans across time – through their thoughts and their hands. For Woodbury a book is a metaphor and she finds parallels between body and book, the spine that binds it and holds it together. The vellum and the skin, what is held inside and the covering.

In Revised Edition, Woodbury takes Janson’s History of Art as her starting point. This canonical 20th century textbook of Western art history had until 1986 completely omitted women artists. Revised Edition redraws women back into the history of art, literally and metaphorically. Woodbury chooses ink as her medium, to meld the portraits with the printed pages of the book, and the women with the history it tells. She also uses this black ink to express the common humanity and shared struggles among women. “I wanted to show unity among heterogeneity”.

In her series Palimpsest, Woodbury further explores the book metaphor, using book as subject as well as painting implement. Like the original palimpsests, which became multivalent as different epochs of written and erased ink re-emerged and coalesced, Woodbury’s paintings hint at the ephemeral and the inscrutable as we make meaning in our lives. Some of these works glint with gold leaf, echoing the Japanese practice of kintsugi, the repair of ceramics with gold that highlights and honours the history of breakage. “How like us,” Woodbury says, “as humans, it is not our perfection that makes us, but the broken places that we have tended to and which allow us to grow.”

In her series In Place (Himalaya and Havana) Woodbury creates visual journeys that document her art- related work on location in different countries. On arrival, she first finds an old book resonant of the place. This book becomes her sketchbook to record and communicate her observations and reflections. “Art is universal and people are curious. I choose colours I see around me, and capture them as faithfully as I can. Each place has a very distinct colour palette, a language in colours, which I do speak”.

Coral Woodbury (b. 1971) critically reinterprets Western artistic heritage from a feminist perspective. She has participated in numerous residencies, including in Italy with rosenclaire, with whom she has worked for nearly 30 years. Coral exhibits nationally and internationally, recently including Opening Press Week of the 58th Venice Biennale. In 2020 she was a finalist for the international Mother Art Prize, culminating in the Procreate Project exhibition at Cromwell Place in London. In 2021 she participated in the exhibition ‘Call and Response’ at Newport Art Museum, Rhode Island. In 2018 she took part in the ‘Humanities Approaches to the Opioid Crisis, Boston University, the International Travelling Art exhibition at Taragaon Museum, Kathmandu, Nepal and #00Bienal de la Habana, Havana, Cuba and VANITAS#IMPERMANENCE, Traveling Exhibition: Palazzo Reale, Genova; Duino Castle, Trieste, Italy.

In Revised Edition Coral makes visible those who are obscured from history. She describes herself as a “historian, gazing backward, and as an artist, creating anew” whose works “are a way to heal the injustices and omissions of art history”. Recognising that women were vital contributors to art history and yet excluded from it both in their own and subsequent times, Coral reclaims space for them. Bringing women together across time and place, she re-recasts and re-crafts the story of art.

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