Angel of Anarchy: it’s all in the title.
Walking away from the Whitechapel Gallery’s mesmerising Eileen Agar exhibition, I felt inflated with air, time and space, my imagination infused with a myriad, happenstance possibilities. For hers was an imagination soaring high: confident, unfettered, feminist in spirit and wayward in intention.
In a flurry of tranquil energy, here was an artist who exploited every opportunity to transform, whether it was by fashioning (and modelling) a high street hat to resemble a provocatively quivering ship or adding a ram’s horn from Cumberland to a dried ground starfish, crucifix fish skeleton and other sea encrustaceans to her sculpture Marine Object, `enlisting the quickening pulse of vegetation’ in a `displacement of the banal by the fertile intervention of coincidence’.
Barnacles and seashells, newspaper and magazine cuttings, fragments of classical mythology: all were swept into new configurations reflecting the fractured, pre-war unease of the 1930s.
Beyond abstract, surrealist labels, this fervent forest and beachcomber elevated collage and assemblage as natural, creative problem-solving mechanisms. Sparking creativity became her keynote. `I surround myself with fantastic bric-a-brac to trigger my imagination. The spirit of play imbues life with meaning… In play, the mind is prepared to enter a world where different laws apply, to be free.’ What a credo! (Norma Cohen)
Whether dancing on the rooftops in Paris, sharing ideas with Pablo Picasso, or gathering starfish on the beaches of Cornwall, Eileen Agar (b.1899 Buenos Aires – d.1991 London) transformed the everyday into the extraordinary.