Even at the best of times, funding for art is hard to find. As is well known, lockdown has made this yet more precarious making today a worrying and uncertain time for art institutions. It is therefore relieving to see that some have made it work in their favour, with the London Drawing Group’s array of pay-if-you-can online classes being a reassuring example.
An all-female art teaching collective, LDG’s ethos is summed up as ‘a wish to make art accessible to everyone’ – something they have certainly achieved. As someone with only basic GCSE Art skills, the thought of signing up to their Zoom lecture on the history of female Surrealists seemed at best intimidating and at worst a sure-fire way to cement my perception of the exclusivity of ‘the art world’. Luckily, I was entirely proved wrong.
Run by artist and resident art historian Luisa-Maria MacCormack, the lecture (£5 donation suggested) spanned a wonderful variety of female and non-binary Surrealist artists on talents such as Leonora Carrington, Mimi Parent, Claude Cahun. If those names aren’t ringing a bell, don’t worry, in fact that is rather the point. As Luisa explained, these artists were very much excluded from the popular canon, particularly when looking back on the movement. Mimi Parent’s work, for example, was used as the poster image for the major Surrealist ‘Eros’ exhibition in the late 1950s, and was behind the famous ‘Boîte Alerte’ exhibition catalogue; yet this has been attributed to leading male surrealist Marcel Duchamp, and Parent’s name is hardly spoken of in relation to the movement.
This was not the tour of the high and mighty of Surrealism that I had anticipated, but instead a wonderful and genuinely educational lecture, giving insight into a world of talent and creativity that has been completely lost from the mainstream. To hear the stories of these boundary-breaking women was truly inspiring and being openly encouraged to express our thoughts on each artwork during a discussion over Zoom chat really brought the focus onto group participation and accessibility. This lecture was just one of many that Luisa has run as part of a wider ‘Art Herstory’ project, shining light on the rich history of women in art that is oft forgotten, and I think anyone interested would find a lot to take away.
If you fancy something more practical, however, the group offers a similarly wide-ranging set of follow-along art technique classes – a ‘Painting with Scissors’ Matisse class, a ‘Drawing Music’ Kandinsky class, and soon ‘A Feminist’s Guide to Botany’ watercolour class (see their Facebook page for all the options). Having been so fascinated by the lecture I attended, I decided to try the ‘Self Portraits and Symbolism’ Frida Kahlo class (£8 donation suggested) to compare. I was not disappointed.
The class, again by Luisa, began with a half-hour talk on Frida Kahlo’s life and work. As with the lecture, it really got to the heart of Kahlo’s powerful story and left a profound impression of her work on an emotional rather than intellectual level. Moving on to the practical drawing session, the idea was to create our own Kahlo-esque symbolic portrait, using sentimental objects as part of the piece. I was really surprised at how freeing and enjoyable it was to follow along with the techniques Luisa showed us: from blind drawing our faces without looking at the paper, to laying down colour and underpaintings to get rid of the blank canvas, it opened up a new and relaxed way of approaching art. Though it was not possible to finish a full self-portrait in the class, the exercises and experience of painting without restrictions was an amazing stress reliever; I left feeling peaceful and inspired to create more.
With term coming to an end, and the summer calendar looking a little sparse, classes like these are the perfect opportunity to pursue some artistic interests, whilst supporting the arts industry through a difficult time. The online art world might seem odd at first, but in fact it allows for people across the country, the world even, to experience what have often been London-centric opportunities, and it is pleasing to hear LDG may continue their Zoom classes into the future. With so much happening in the world, I hope everyone in need of a break can enjoy these creative outlets, and take comfort in the stories of many brave artists who have overcome struggles before us.
You can find more information about the London Drawing Group here: