Book Review: Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage

Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage Book Cover.jpg

Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage by Andrew Lambirth. Pallant House Gallery. UK. 2008. ISBN 978-2-940-41111-5

Andrew Lambirth's book, Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage, comes a bit closer to discussing the ins-and-outs of Agar's collages, sketches and paintings than her own autobiography, A Look at My Life, which focuses more on her social life than art process.

Collage, Lambirth posits, is central to Agar's work, whether she is constructing or de-constructing images with paper and paste or applying "its layering techniques to the way she distributed and grouped her painted imagery". (p. 11). Using stencils and templates, Agar obtained "collage-like effects" that made her work distinctive. "This is not the spontaneous outpouring of the surrealist unconscious, but a very conscious and highly structured process. It is the Agar way." (p. 11).

Left: Abundance (1942); Right: Erotic Landscape (ca. 1942)

Left: Abundance (1942); Right: Erotic Landscape (ca. 1942)

Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage traces her progress by decade, starting from 1930 to the 1980s. In her autobiography, Agar mentions her own focus and work ethic. She never lost sight of her desire to be an artist. She experimented with materials and techniques, including the use of Letraset letters and the Spirograph. (p. 91). She was also not opposed to risking covering up the best bits of her work in order to move beyond the obvious and reach something new. (p. 40).

Left: Pigeon Post (1967); Right: Portrait of My Mother (1960s)

Left: Pigeon Post (1967); Right: Portrait of My Mother (1960s)

The book contains full-page, color photographs of her work with in-depth descriptions of each to give the reader insight into Agar's work. I particularly loved the pull-out depicting her 1930s Autobiography of An Embryo (1933-34). This was, arguably, one of her most successful paintings and demonstrates a mastery of space, pattern and color. I learn something new every time I look at this piece.

Left: Small Collage (1939); Right: Fish Circus (1939)

Left: Small Collage (1939); Right: Fish Circus (1939)

Lambirth writes:

What remains astonishing is her sureness of touch, not only in the placing of elements, whether painted, drawn or collages, but in their pace and rhythm. These are qualities in which Agar excelled, achieving them through her technique of layering, which required so often the risk of losing the whole image by obscuring what at one moment might appear to be the best bit of it. It is that ability to risk all that makes her work so inventive and exciting. (p. 40).

Agar returned to collage time and again because of its flexibility and opportunities for the serendipitous joining of unexpected elements. The more time I spend looking at Agar's art, the more I appreciate her sense of exploration, inventiveness, humor and constant quest to learn something new throughout a life time of practicing art.