Nina Mae Fowler (British)
Known for her sumptuously detailed large-scale drawings and installations, Nina Mae Fowler’s work interrogates themes of celebrity, beauty, power and sexuality. Preoccupied with Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, Fowler treats the period as a crucible of our own, revelling in its sheer visual richness at the same time as it critiques our culture’s obsession with stardom, as well as the ubiquitous presence of the photographic lens in the reception of imagery.
In 2019, Fowler was awarded a major commission for The National Portrait Gallery. Entitled ‘Luminary Drawings’, the series comprises nine portraits of leading British Film Directors which now form part of the museums permanent collection, including Sam Mendes, Ken Loach, Nick Park and Sally Potter.
Since her nomination for the BP Portrait Prize in 2008, Fowler’s work has won widespread acclaim. It is featured in numerous collections of international significance and in 2015 a monograph of her work entitled Measuring Elvis was published by Cob Gallery, London. The book features
a commentary from an array of cultural luminaries including the curator Sandy Nairne and the playwright Polly Stenham. Her most recent publication Ruined Finery (Cob Gallery 2020) catalogues Fowler’s drawing and sculpture practice from 2015-2020 alongside contributions from writers including Alissa Bennett and Dame Marina Warner.
Nina Mae Fowler (b.1981) has been shortlisted for numerous prestigious prizes and awards, including the Jerwood Drawing Prize (2015 & 2010), Aesthetica Art Prize (2014), Drawing Now Award (2014), Young Masters Prize (2012) and the BP Portrait Award (2008). Her works have been exhibited internationally, including frequent solo exhibitions in London, Paris and Leipzig, and are held in public collections including New, Bailliol and Magdalene Colleges (Oxford, UK), The National Portrait Gallery (London, UK), the ‘Try-me’ collection, a public foundation in Richmond (Virginia, USA) and Fondation d’entreprise Francès (France). In 2018, David Lynch’s establishment Silencio in Paris held a retrospective of Fowler’s work. She is included in private collections throughout Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia. International film, art, music and fashion luminaries such as Sir Ridley Scott, Jude Law, Caroline Issa, Daniel Templon, Laurant Dumas, Roland Mouret and John Maybury are amongst her collectors.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the shades (the souls of the damned) stood at the entrance to Hell, pointing to an unequivocal inscription: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Rodin made several studies of Shades, eventually assembling three identical figures that seem to be circling the same spot. (Musèe Rodin)
The inscription above Rodin’s Gates of Hell could well be applied to fame and those who ‘enter’ its domain. The frames are intended to heighten a sense of adoration for the subjects in the drawing, whilst also being emblematic of the duress that fans symptomatically impose upon themselves and the symbiotic relationship with those they worship.
Tallulah Bankhead is an all-time favourite of mine. She was seemingly unaffected by the Hollywood machine, most of her career being played out in the theatre. You can almost hear her famously low, raucous laugh in this image as the ageing actress distracts her audience with ‘outrageous behaviour. She was notoriously up-front and honest in her opinions, enjoyed relationships with both sexes and was completely unapologetic for her often controversial behaviour.
Marpessa Dawn was an American born French actress. After a very promising start (playing the female lead in the 1958 Academy award-winning film ‘Black Orpheus’) her career seemed to dim
by the late ’60s but her beauty and knowing emanate from pictures of her. I pour over the images
of Marpessa and her second husband, Belgian actor, Eric Vander (she was previously married to Director – Marcel Camus – elevating her fleeting celebrity). The love between them is tangible. She left behind 5 children and an indelible impression on those who followed her brief but enduring star.