Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman
30 November 2013 – 9 February 2014
The first ever dedicated public show for the pioneering Pop Artist, whose work fell into obscurity after her tragic early death at the age of 28.
A founding member of the Pop Art movement in this country, who appeared in Ken Russell’s Pop Goes the Easel alongside Peter Blake, Peter Phillips and Derek Boshier, she also worked as an actress, appearing in tv, radio and theatre. Her West London flat, where she lived with her husband, the left-wing writer and activist Clive Goodwin, was a regular haunt for the aspiring cultural elite in the early sixties, including the likes of Blake, David Hockney, Kenneth Tynan, Cecilia Birtwell and Roger McGough. When Bob Dylan came to the UK at the invitation of tv director Philip Saville, it was Boty who put him up.
As she analysed, subverted and skewered pop culture and major political events, Boty was herself very much in the public gaze. A famous beauty, known to her fellow students as the ‘Wimbledon Bardot’ and publically lusted after by David Frost, Peter Blake and many others, she was a dancer on the tv music show Ready Steady Go!, and even appeared as one of Alfie’s girlfriends in the 1966 film starring Michael Caine.
Some have argued that Boty’s legacy fell victim to misogyny – that her work was wilfully ignored – others draw attention to the disruptive effect of the tragic premature deaths of both her and her husband, she from cancer in 1966 and he from a brain haemorrhage 12 years later. Her rehabilitation began in the 1990s when David Alan Mellor of Sussex University rescued Boty’s works from a barn in Kent, where they had languished for decades. As the revival gathers steam, it has become apparent that at least three major canvases are unaccounted for, including Scandal ’63, which portrays the protagonists of the infamous Profumo affair.
The show gives audiences the chance to see Boty's 1962 Marilyn Monroe portrait Colour Her Gone, bought by the gallery last year with Art Fund assistance.
Boty's work is infused with a pioneering sexual confidence that flew in the face of the gender politics of a male-dominated industry. Her painting 54321, named after the theme tune to Ready Steady Go!, features the presenter Cathy McGowan under the words ‘Oh, for a fu...’, the expletive running off the canvas edge.
She made several paintings of Marilyn Monroe, each challenging the conventions of glamour imagery: In Colour Her Gone, we see a relaxed-looking woman in an unremarkable, loose-fitting blue top; in The Only Blonde in the World (1963), the sole Boty work owned by Tate, Monroe totters in heels and a pencil skirt, but it is tempting to read the title ironically, and the subject is constricted between two stark colourful blocks, making a gaudy peep show of a straight portrait.