Maman et Muses’ –figurative paintings by Elaine Woo MacGregor @ Patriothall Gallery
Elaine Woo MacGregor is a Scottish-born Chinese artist who studied at the Glasgow School of Art, (1999-2003), her distinctive work recognised through the Dewar Arts Award, James Torrance Memorial Award, Hope Scott Trust Award and other prizes. She has exhibited in the UK, USA, Thailand and most recently at the London Art Fair 2023, as part of the ‘Reframing the Muse’ platform.
Curated by Ruth Millington, and based on her recently published book, ‘Muse’, there were eight galleries of inspirational work, to reframe the muse and reclaim Motherhood as an empowered and active agent in the story of art.
‘For centuries, art by women was considered inferior. The domestic sphere was the woman’s realm and thus considered a minor subject for art.’
Hettie Judah, Art Critic; author of ‘How not to exclude Artist Mothers’.
Elaine creatively embraces her dual role as a professional artist and as a mother of two young daughters. The emotional, all-consuming experience of the early years of motherhood has inspired this project, ‘Maman & Muses,’ a series of portraits and figurative paintings featuring herself and two daughters, Carina and Ramona, her young muses.
As she explains in an introduction, picturing family life has been a traditional artistic theme from Gainsborough’s daughters to the private lives of women as witnessed by Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot.
‘My experiences of motherhood has influenced my sketchbook work and subject matter. However, I am not interested in creating sentimental art, but capturing a force and dynamism within a world of childhood.’
Elaine Woo MacGregor
A charming, intimate portrait entitled Sleep, observes in close up, her baby daughter quietly at rest: delicate soft skin, eyelids, ruffled hair, pursed lip, captured in soft light and shadow. This is not sentimental but the factual reality and responsibility of caring for a newborn, while existing, as she describes, in a strange, sleep deprived, dreamlike fog.
A most insightful Self Portrait depicts the artist, paint palette and brush in hand, her eyes looking rather weary perhaps, but also a determined look to concentrate on her artwork, with a sketch on the wall behind her.
‘Women are urged to relax, to mime the serenity of Madonnas. No-one mentions the psychic crisis of bearing a first child, of a heightened sensibility which can be exhilarating, bewildering and exhausting.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born.
The artist’s muses are observed at home and away such as at Ganavan Sands, Oban – such a happy, carefree illustration of the sisters enjoying a summer day on the beach. The colour palette of soft aqua and flowing, fluid brushstrokes conjure up the translucent water and reflection of sunlight.
With memories of a family holiday to Iceland last year Elaine painted Maman Black Sand Beach which focusses on her thoughtful, far away, expression. She relaxes, stretched out on the beach, a copy of Rolling Stone magazine with a front cover image of a young model or celebrity. Also, note the glass of red wine. Inventive media – a blend of acrylic, pumice and Urban Decay make up, with a layer of varnish – creates the textured, black, volcanic sand.
This large scale narrative painting takes centre stage on the back wall of the main gallery space, to allow the viewer to study carefully from a distance.
‘Portraits of my daughters explore bi-racial identity, rites of passage and ambivalences of childhood dreams and fear. There is an other-worldly quality that comes to the surface, all is not what it seems, conveying a personal feeling to the subjects.’
Elaine Woo MacGregor
This is particularly evident in Strolling with Ramona, (age 4), with attention to detail: the red emblem T shirt, blue jeans, black sandals, clutching a twisted branch, her slightly bent head, eyes wide open with a quizzical look.
Elaine could have just compiled the usual photograph album of family snapshots. But instead these ‘imaginative dreamscapes’ – especially Ganavan Sands – have a hazy, impressionistic veneer like viewing the scene through rose coloured spectacles, preserving a sense of time and place.
‘My children have determined my life; since the day they were born, I never thought of myself as an individual but part of an inseparable trio.’ Isabel Allende, Paula
The artist’s Muses inspire pictorial storytelling such as the magical Guisers, the girls in Fairy tale costumes for a Halloween party, expressing a caring sisterly bond.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday 19th March, these intimate Portraits reflect the unconditional love of a mother, but also, with a subtle sense of detachment, underlying sensitivities and dramatic mood.
Most impressively, we also view Elaine Woo MacGregor, up close and personal in all her guises as Maman, woman and artist with such perceptive, emotional insight.
Elaine is now working on a new exciting showcase of work at the Expo Chicago Art Fair, 2023 with Cynthia Corbett Gallery, Chicago, USA, taking place, 13 – 16 April 2023.
Maman et Muses: Elaine Woo MacGregor
Patriothall Gallery, 9 February – 25 February, 2023; Opening times: Weekends 12 – 5pm.
Viewing by appointment, please contact 07947300794 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is exhibition has been arranged with courtesy of the Cynthia Corbett Gallery, London and Wasps Studios.