Joan Curtis: ‘You start to become invisible as an older woman’

Joan Curtis, a founding member of The Friends of Lordship Rec and Lordship Hub, gives the lowdown on her latest exhibition as an artist

At 72, I looked at all the paintings filling my house and thought that perhaps it was time to have a retrospective and
expose them (and myself) to others. Maybe I regret doing it, but it is a done deal now!

I drew and painted from an early age. There were little prints of Picasso and Van Gogh works on the walls at home which really inspired me. I used to copy Van Gogh’s beautiful, strong drawings of peasants in the fields and never looked back. I was very lucky that my parents took me to see art as a child and I immediately felt an affinity with it.

Much against the wishes of my very stern, academic teachers at a school that didn’t encourage art as a ‘proper’ pursuit, I applied to art school and for the first time started to develop skills that I had only hinted at before. I am so happy that I was ‘taught’ to draw because it has made my desire to capture the feeling I have for things and people come to life.

I stayed at art school for a couple of years but succumbed to peer pressure, dropping out in 1970. Times were turbulent: the Vietnam War, the women’s liberation movement, and many other political upheavals were happening in Britain and overseas. I was convinced that I should not be involved in socalled ‘establishment, elitist’ endeavours but instead should use my talents for collective, political ends and I immersed myself in community-based radical politics, a place I have inhabited ever since.

However, in between meetings, discussions and demonstrations I made time for personal expression apart from posters and community newspapers. Motherhood then intervened and some years later I decided to concentrate more on developing my artistic ideas.

When I first started oil painting, it was always views through windows and doors, journeys to unknown places and, when later I got into larger, more abstract compositions, my obsessions did not change and the imagery still drew me to journey into the dark, unknown.

As I began to tip over into old age, I felt the need to express how that made me feel as a woman, as an artist. I felt myself to be changing in the eyes of the world around me. Some say you start to become invisible as an older woman. I thought more about the stages of life and the metamorphosis from soft, sensual, and potent to more brittle vulnerability and went through my ‘ageing period’. Along the way, I continued to be aware of geopolitical events and the growing conflict that has exploded everywhere and I tried to capture that too.

As you will see, my artistic journey has been a long and winding one, and one I hope you will relate to, in part or in its entirety.

‘Where to Now?’ will be held at Hornsey Library’s Original Gallery from Saturday, March 2nd – Saturday, March 16th.

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