The words ‘gender’ and ‘inequality’ are used in the same sentence all too often because, shamefully, gender bias is still prevalent. Everyone is familiar with the Women’s Liberation Movement of the ‘60s, the Germaine Greer of the ‘70s and the Girl Power of the ‘90s, but a conversation that is often overlooked in the public sphere is the relationship between gender and art.
Illustrator Kelly Thompson understands this all too well, but rather than use her gender as an excuse to admit defeat, she uses it to propel herself forward. Thompson’s illustrations are inherently feminine and she describes one aspect of her work as “very bright, bold and full-coloured,” and the other as “very soft, feminine and delicate. Across both styles there is definite femininity in both my subject matter and my line-work,” she explains.
Thompson is an advocate for young artists and believes that women need more creative female role models. While no one could ever deprive women of their girl power, the achievements that female artists have achieved recently (case in point: Del Kathryn Barton’s Archibald Prize) show that the gender inequality argument is becoming redundant. A round of applause goes to Curvy for being a major contributor in publishing emerging female artists over the past decade.
Curvy was launched in 2004 as an annual book that unearths female creative talent. Each page shows the work of boundary-breaking female creatives across design, fashion, illustration and photography.
For Thompson, Curvy was a publication that spoke to her heart: “An old boyfriend of mine gave me the very first issue of Curvy with a little note inside saying: ‘To my very own Curvy creator, I look forward to seeing your work in the next issue,’ [and] I remember looking through the book and feeling very inspired and in awe of some of the amazing work people were doing,” she says. “The next year I submitted a couple of my very first fashion-based illustrations and I got in.”
While gender equality will always be an important subject for discourse, it is not to say that female artists are the only ones struggling to be taken seriously. Technology has made creativity available to anyone with a laptop. The idea that anyone can be an artist adds to the pile of pretentious non-art that ‘serious artists’ must fight their way through by elbowing the Instagrammers and tripping over the rebloggers on their way to the top.
“I’ve been speaking about this a lot recently,” Thompson explains, “it is very difficult for young artists to get their work out there and gain that much-needed profile that has so much weight put on it these days.”
There is also the relationship between art and money as an artistic concern.
Curvy presents established and emerging artists who have found a way to live and work between two extremes, giving young female artists the motivation they need to follow the same path.
“Publications such as Curvy and events like Semi-Permanent are very important for promotion, inspiration, encouragement and also reaching people outside of the creative community,” Thompson says. “Curvy is a great supporter of that.”
Murray Bell, co-founder of Semi-Permanent, says he and Andrew Johnstone started the event with the intention of providing “a platform for local artists, and [to] showcase international and travelling talent.” Semi-Permanent is a creative collective that began as a conference event and has evolved into something of a festival of creativity spreading art and design inspiration.
Thompson, a Semi-Permanent veteran, has seen how powerful the event is from both sides of the podium: as a student in the audience, and then as a speaker. “I’ve spoken at four [events]… It is just so incredible to be in an audience and listen to some of the people who inspired and motivated you when you were young,” she says.
“Even now I am always in awe over the speakers. I remember [as a student] feeling quite overwhelmed by just how successful and creative everyone seemed; their success appeared unattainable at the time, but was obviously the motivation I needed.”
Semi-Permanent and Curvy were created within one year of each other and have grown together like childhood friends. “We love [Curvy],” says Bell. “We helped start it back in the day and it’s great to see it still operating. I think there is so much amazing female creative talent in this world and it’s great to give them a voice.”
While the concept behind Curvy will always be to promote women doing creative things, it is the hope that the readership will extend to people who have their eyes on the art, rather than on the genitalia of the artist. (AE)
Semi-Permanent, May 22-25, Carriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh, $40-795 (3-day VIP pass), semipermanent.com
BY ALEXANDRA ENGLISH