Text by Zoe Lippett, Exhibitions and Artists' Projects Curator at The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2014
This body of drawings is based on text and images abstracted from photographs, letters, and documents relating to the two creators and donors of the Garman Ryan Collection, Kathleen Epstein (née Garman) and Sally Ryan. Their extraordinary lives were the starting point for Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s exploration into wider ideas around womanhood and representations of femininity during her extended residency in the Artists’ Studio this year.
Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s representations of images in the archive are combined and layered with altered pages from British and American magazines dating from the 1940s through to the 1970s, echoing the era from which most of the archive material originates. The original magazine pages reflect post-war, socially-constructed notions of feminine beauty but these ideals are interrupted by the artist’s alterations to the content. The mass produced images and hand-rendered drawings envelop one another, and transmute into a wider comment on womanhood. The compositional arrangement used in each drawing alludes to the meme as a narrative format.
The word 'meme' was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, referencing the way ideas spread and evolve within a culture. This concept has proliferated within internet culture and, in 2013, Dawkins characterised an internet meme as being a meme deliberately altered by human creativity, with a conscious 'hijacking of the original idea’. Sarah Taylor Silverwood brings this methodology to her work, deliberately evolving the original content to transmit new meaning. Compositional elements including stilted grammar, no frills fonts and repeated imagery are borrowed from internet culture, challenging our perceptions of the value of the singular image and the power of language to alter meaning.
Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s use of inexpensive materials provokes further thought around the value of the image and its craftsmanship. Repeated, yet hand drawn, textile patterns are referenced throughout the exhibition, culminating in a large-scale, hand drawn fabric pattern which brings together hundreds of drawings and captions, inspired by the archive of Kathleen and Sally.