For me there is no gap between my painting and my so-called ‘decorative’ work. I never considered the ‘minor arts’ to be artistically frustrating; on the contrary, it was an extension of my art.
This spring the giants of Tate Modern bring the eclectically timeless work of Sonia Delaunay to the third floor galleries. The 12 room exhibition is a packed one, with space after space flooded with her recognised and loved works, alongside the lesser known rarer objects from Delaunay’s extensive practice. With so much to see, you’ll need a good two hours dedicated to the exhibition – one not to miss if you’re a fan of colourful abstraction and Dada-esque design.
The female artist appears to be the central focal point for Tate’s exhibitions this year. With Marlene Dumas, Christina Mackie and Cathy Wilkes displays all in full swing across the Tate collective, and Agnes Martin and Barbara Hepworth soon adding to the ‘female phenomena’ this June, Sonia Delaunay’s retrospective has been suitably timed. At first one might think – great, finally a burst of recognition for the talented modern and contemporary female artists! However, upon closer inspection I actually began to feel anxious about Tate’s year for women; a ‘special’ period which encourages audiences to view these women in art as more of an anomaly than anything else. Nonetheless, Sonia Delaunay’s exhibition reaffirms the artist’s vibrant diversity during a period of darker hardship for women, particularly in the arts.
As a chronological study of Delaunay’s career in the arts, the exhibition begins with her earliest works which are predominantly portraiture paintings. These works, the majority of which focus on female subjects, have a heavy painterly quality to them with daring, vivid colours swapped for realist tones. Highlights include Delaunay’s Young Finnish Woman (1907) and Yellow Nude (1908), two delicately beautiful works hosting the intense and glowing personalities of young women. The show then leads us onto Delaunay’s continuous exploration into abstraction and modern life. Here we begin to see the artist’s drop of the figurative and her increasing tendency toward colourful curves and symmetrical shapes, lending to her work Bal Bullier (1913), Portuguese Market (1915) and Flamenco Singer (1915) – each fantastic studies in colour and dynamism.
Painting begins to transform into the material textile, where Tate shows off its vast range of Delaunay work. Small drawings of her Cleopatra outfit design tease visitors, her Simultaneous Dress (1913) hangs under a spotlight in a vitrine at the centre of the gallery, whilst geometric sewn high heels sit on a crowded shelf and endless textile design patterns dance across the walls of each room. It is clear to see from the overwhelming range of work that Delaunay was a woman of motivation and dedication; an entrepreneur setting up her own business workshops and boutiques in Spain under Casa Sonia throughout the 1920s.
A particular highlight of the retrospective at Tate is the photographic collection of Delaunay’s fashion designs, taken by such photographers as Germaine Krull and Henrika Phillip. These black and white images are a unique looking-glass into the fashion and lifestyle of the 1920s, and represent the huge influence Delaunay had on European culture. The poetry and theatre section of the exhibition provide similar insights, once again introducing Delaunay as ever more the creatively wonderful business woman of the twentieth century.
Finally the large 1937 Paris works by Delaunay are principally breath-taking in the EY Exhibition. Delaunay’s unusual choice of subject as technical drawings of planes was intended to be a contribution to the 1937 Paris Exhibition, a show promoting the innovation of technology in the contemporary. Delaunay’s three large scale plane paintings combine the mechanical with the wacky, imprinting an unusual spectrum of colour on each canvas, almost crossing over with her earlier abstract works from the 1910s.
Sonia Delaunay had an extremely diverse practice which helped to establish her as a very unique female artist ahead of her time. With so much imagination and wonderful variety, Tate Modern’s current retrospective is one you will want to visit over and over again for its galleries bursting with colour and energy. The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay is on at Tate Modern until 9 August 2015.