Painter Dorothy Mead Gets Her Due with Retrospective Exhibition at Waterhouse & Dodd

British painter Dorothy Mead was known to be confident, headstrong, and devoted to her art. While a student at London’s respected Slade School of Art, she once refused to sit for an exam on perspective, because, as she wrote to her professor, “perspective is completely alien to me in my work as a painter.” While this refusal cost her a degree, it did not cost her a vigorous career, which found her in important roles in such leading artists’ associations as the Borough Group and the London Group, whose presidency she eventually assumed, as the first woman to have ever held this role. She died in the prime of her life, at the age of 46, leaving behind a body of work reflecting her bold individuality and embrace of experimentation, a selection of which is soon to be on view in a retrospective at Waterhouse & Dodd’s London space.

With a style that blended abstraction and representation, Mead explored the human figure, portraiture, still life, and urban and natural landscape scenes. In an early oil-on-board landscape painting titled Looking into the distance (1947–8), a hodgepodge of thick, linear brushstrokes in harvest colors crowds the picture’s foreground, as if the distance were being seen through a patch of brambles, a bush, or a thick scrim of tree branches. In Copse in field, by contrast, a soft patchwork of green, yellow, and auburn brushstrokes resolves into an image of a summery field, with a small stand of trees at its center. The artist’s figurative paintings range widely, encompassing a moody, semi-abstract self-portrait in impasto shades of gray touched with ochre, and a composition centered upon two women, whose forms are rendered with undulating black outlines.

The exhibition also includes a small abstract composition, featuring an assortment of straight and curving golden-colored brushstrokes sprinkled over a blue and gray ground. Among Mead’s later works, not only does it indicate her ongoing interest in innovation, but it also suggests that this was an artist who had so much more to do, if only she had had the chance.

Karen Kedmey

Dorothy Mead” is on view at Waterhouse & Dodd, London, Nov. 19–Dec. 13, 2014.

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