Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings

Visited the Courtauld for another wonderful exhibition of abstract artworks by yet another (though lesser known), female artist. Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) - like Hilma af Klint, whose work was shown earlier this year at The Serpentine gallery - took her artistic inspiration from the spirit world who guided her hand to create extraordinary abstract images, which pre-dated those of Kandinsky and Malevich by many years. Af Klint hid her spirit inspired works away, fearing that critics and the public wouldn't understand them. Houghton, however had the courage of her spiritualist beliefs, and organised an exhibition of her work at a Bond Street gallery in 1871 which, surprisingly given their abstract imagery, recieved critical support and acclaim but wasn't a commercial success. The costs of this enterprise nearly bankrupted her.

Mediumship and séances to contact the deceased were very popular in the Victorian era following the sensational events at the home of the Fox sisters in Hydesville, America in 1848 which heralded the birth of modern spiritualism. As a spiritualist medium, Houghton (1814-1884), was able to channel the spirits of past Renaisssance masters such as Corregio and that of Royal Academician Sir Thomas Lawrence who guided her hand when creating some of these works whilst in trance.

Many of her earliest spirit pictures referenced family members in their titles and were floral in subject matter, and were characterised by their beautiful flowing lines which, along with the vibrant colours, were to become her signature style. Spiritual flowers are said to blossom in spirit when a child is born on earth.

All of the work created by Houghton is on a much smaller, more intimate scale in comparison to the huge pieces of Hilma af Klint, and the mark-making seems more intense and almost frenzied in places. The pieces below seem almost psychedelic, and like the work of artists experimenting with mark-making whilst under the influence of mind altering drugs. Magnifying glasses are provided in the exhibition to better see the very fine, almost pointillist white dot work which is stippled over the other colours.

Houghton saw the pieces that she created as being a new form of religious art, and the titles such as - The Glory of The Lord, The Eye of God, The Sheltering Wing of The Most High, certainly suggest access to higher, heavenly realms whilst creating the drawings in trance.

The backs of some of the paintings are just as beautiful as the front. There are copious notes executed in a beautiful script which are overdrawn with some handsome line work. They reminded me a little of Leonardo's sketchbook drawings.

There are more of Houghton's artworks on display along with the artwork of other mediums and spirit photographs from 1856 to the present day at The College Of Psychic Studies, South Kensington, 14th- 20th August, 12-5pm daily, free admission.

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings
until 11th September
The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House