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Still Life: An Audience with Henrietta Moraes

 

Still Life began life in 1990 with a traditional stage adaptation of Henrietta Moraes autobiography. Henrietta was model and muse to Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and latterly, Maggi Hambling.  She was the uncrowned Queen of the 1950's Soho set. Hers was an itinerant and rackety life, sustained by the tolerance of friends, oiled by alcohol and fuelled by an astonishing variety of drugs.  The Guardian obituary, after her death in 1999, gave her profession as Bohemian.

In 2010 I returned to Henrietta as subject matter.  My own pratice had developed considerably and I felt there was more to be done.  When I originally read Henrietta’s obituary in the Guardian in 1999 I was intrigued by two things, first her occupation being given as ‘Bohemian’ and secondly by the disjuncture between the photographs of her younger and older self. On reading her autobiography I began to think about the dynamic relationship between artist and model.  The question was then asked: if someone cannot inhabit their own life, does the artist’s portrayal of the person fill the gap? My thinking then turned to the composition of still life paintings and how the founding more of such paintings is the absence of human form and the presence of domestic trivia.  I imagined the re-figured performance as a still life painting of Henrietta’s life but with Henrietta within the painting disrupting the stasis and therefore influencing the drawings that are being made of her.

 The White Room life-drawing studio at Phoenix Gallery hosted weekend performances of Still Life, with Henrietta Moraes as model-in-residence.  The production blended performance with life-drawing, encouraging those attending to engage with this intriguing woman as both audience member and artist.

Audience are welcomed into a domain that is mutually an art studio (here is where the model sits) and domestic space (here is where the woman lives).  Henrietta, with characteristic wit and candour, told stories from her life and re-created poses from her illustrious career.

Through the performance the line between subject and object, artist and model, public and private, blurred; influencing the dynamic relationship between audience and performer.  To date, the performance has taken place at the National Portrait Gallery (London), Wimbledon College of Art, Modern Art Oxford with Oxford Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre as well as the Whitespace Gallery in Edinburgh and the Phoenix Gallery with the Brighton Dome.

The show has always received excellent reviews from both critics and audience and was shortlisted for a Total Theatre award in 2012 and received 'Most Groundbreaking Act' award in the Brighton Festival 2011.

The performance lasts for 65 minutes, including periods of drawing and can be performed twice a day.

 

Click here to see excerpt of script