The exhibition’s title, Here Come the Girls!, gives away the common link between them – they are all women and Honey launched the show last Sunday to mark International Women’s Day
There is some considerable technical skill here, particularly in the delicate and sensitive sculptures of Eve Shepherd, and the slightly surreal images of Dani Humberstone. Humberstone’s paintings are redolent of Dutch still lives or Elizabethan miniatures and are quite remarkable for their detail, but it is the small size format which invites you closer into the intriguing scenarios she depicts.
At the other end of the scale are the two largest works in the exhibition by body cast sculptor Louise Giblin. She has achieved considerable success and critical acclaim by taking plaster casts of the torsos of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and then casting them in bronze with pictorial references cast on the surface. These include Kriss Akabusi, gymnast Beth Tweddle, Sally Gunnell, swimmer Darren Leach and Dame Kelly Holmes; the latter is exhibited here.
Resembling a breast plate or armour, the cast suggests a knightly valour and invulnerability which seems paradoxical given they have been dismembered and reduced to torsos. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the rather ridiculed 1990s film Boxing Helena in which Julian Sands plays a surgeon so infatuated with the victim of a road traffic collision, that he amputates her legs and arms so she can’t escape him.
Partnering Dame Kelly in this display is former model, charity campaigner and ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney, Heather Mills. Widely vilified in the press following her split from the Beatle and variously described as a liar and a fantasist, Mills is seemingly an interesting contrast to notoriously private Kelly except that since 2011 Mills has developed a skiing career and successfully competed as a paralympian athlete.
These two women with completely disparate public images – Kelly the nation’s hero and Mills hovering somewhere between the Wicked Witch of the West and Snow ‘Stella McCartney’ White’s evil stepmother – have both been rendered headless and limbless and affiliated by their gold medals.
Any reference to character is rendered by the pictorial relief on the surface of the bronze. We can admire their compact, muscular and presumably highly functional frames, but inevitably these ‘portraits’ are reductive and purely focused on the physical. This is par for the course in regular depictions of women of course, so these casts present an interesting dialogue.
This has given me a lot to think about the past week – absolutely fascinating. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Battle, do go and see Here Comes the Girls!, meet the very warm gallery owner Liz Honey and go eat something at the Chequers pub down the road. The food is fantastic with the friendliest welcome you could wish for.