arts and design

Elaine Wilson obituary


There is a wonderful photograph of my friend, the artist Elaine Wilson, who has died aged 61 of cancer, in which she lies flat on her back in long grass, her piercing blue eyes staring into the lens. How women look at themselves, and are looked at, was a theme she returned to again and again in her work.

Gun Women, a series of clay sculptures she began in 2008, were fired to look like fragile, decorative figurines. Angelic assassins, they peer down the barrel of their handguns, daring us to look at them, more Thelma and Louise than Meissen.

Born in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, to Sheila (nee Colquhoun), a teaching auxiliary, and John Wilson, a sales manager, Elaine was the niece of the artist Robert Colquhoun, one of the Francis Bacon set. She attended Hamilton academy, then, after graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art in Dundee in 1981, went on to do an MA at the Royal Academy in London, leaving with a gold medal.

Elaine Wilson’s intellect might have been intimidating, had it not been for her fun-loving exuberance and huge heart
Elaine Wilson’s intellect might have been intimidating, had it not been for her fun-loving exuberance and huge heart

In 1982 she was included in New Contemporaries at the ICA, London, and in 1985 travelled to Italy, where she exhibited at the Besonte gallery in Florence.

The following year she joined the teaching staff at City and Guilds of London Art School, and two years later Kingston University created a role for her as a practising artist and ceramics technician. Known there as queen of the kiln, she was adored by colleagues and students alike.

Alongside the two jobs, which she held down until lockdown and illness stopped her, she continued to make and exhibit her own work. In 1995, during a three-month residency at the European Ceramics Workcentre in the Netherlands, Elaine explored the decorative ceramics traditions that she would later subvert in her Gun Women.

A travel award in 2001 allowed her to return to Italy. Inspired by effigies of females saints and martyrs, she began a series of collages that combined photography with traditional female veils and decorations.

Over the next decade, her work featured in numerous solo and group shows around the UK, including Prime at the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 2002 and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2006.

A fellowship at Newcastle University in 2009 culminated in Spoiled, a solo show at the Hatton Gallery. This was accompanied by a monograph, Mirror (2010), and was a triumph that she deserved. She was also included in the book New Directions in Ceramics (2015) by Jo Dahn.

In Clover, 2006, resin and mixed media, by Elaine Wilson
In Clover, 2006, resin and mixed media, by Elaine Wilson

Her final solo show, Corp-A-Corps, at Arthouse1, in south-east London, came shortly after her cancer diagnosis in 2018. In the show, mysterious, architectural forms stood on perilous stilts, observing the world through peepholes. In a choreographed film, two masked fencers, a man and a woman, parried swords. Once the fight is given up, the woman walks away from us, into the darkness.

Outside work, anything that involved sensible footwear Elaine generally avoided. Glamour was as essential to her as the heavyweight books she devoured throughout her life. Her intellect might have been intimidating, had it not been for her fun-loving exuberance and huge heart.

Elaine is survived by her sister, Lorna, and brother, Alistair.



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