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Carolyn Gowdy

Carolyn Gowdy is an American artist and illustrator, born in Seattle in 1954 and based in London since 1977. Gowdy studied at the University of Washington (1972-74); Rhode Island School of Design (1974-76); and the Royal College of Art, London (1977-80).

Gowdy has long been fascinated by the relationship between words and images, and her early works at the RCA were initially inspired by the writings of Simone de Beauvoir. She has worked internationally as both a fine artist and illustrator, known for her narrative images with text inscriptions. She says that for her, art has been 'a vocation and a way of life. I don’t draw a line between art and illustration.' Her paintings and drawings – simultaneously playful, reflective, and philosophical – draw on a wide range of sources from Victorian and early 20th-century ephemera to the Surrealist collages of Max Ernst.

Gowdy writes of her feminist collage works: 'As my pictures began to take shape, I was intrigued to find that they spoke of oppression, gender and identity, betrayal, grief, rage, loneliness, disillusion, resignation, etc. I now see in them also a toughness, a black humour, and a gentle irony… The Theatre of Women sprang from my experience, a heartfelt and authentic place. As I processed my own feelings and emotions into the work, the personal somehow became political. I realise now that I was speaking about issues much bigger than myself and that these issues are as relevant for women today as they were then.

'While developing The Theatre of Women series I did not feel limited or confined by the boundaries between fine and applied art. The world took on a new perspective. I became politicised… I researched Marxism, read Spare Rib, attended exhibitions, conferences, and seminars… I observed and recorded women’s lives as I found them portrayed in the city and around me. I drew and took photographs. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir made a particular impression, and there were numerous others. I revisited The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, and writings by Judy Chicago which had inspired me. While still an undergraduate at RISD in America, I had long been aware of Gloria Steinem’s ground breaking work and of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan… During my time at the RCA, 1977-1980, there were exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery which were particularly important in my development.’ These included Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978); Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the Twenties (1978-79). Gowdy became aware of 'how artists like Hannah Hoch, Heartfield, and George Grosz employed collage to handle difficult and emotive subject matter'.

England & Co held a solo exhibition-installation of her multi-media work in 2006. Her photographs from the 1970s were included in several of the gallery's presentations at Photo London at Somerset House; and works from her feminist collage series, Theatre of Women and Ideal Woman’s Scrapbook (produced between 1978 and 1980), are included in Women’s Works: Artists working in 1970s & '80s London at England & Co’s Project Space (October–November 2023).

Drawings & works on paper   


Untitled (Male/Female) - Details

Untitled (Male/Female) 1978

Vintage print. Edition 2/18.
Image size: 12 x 8.25 cm.

Untitled (Slumber) - Details

Untitled (Slumber) 1977

Vintage print. Edition 2/5.
Image size: 12 x 8.25 cm.

Fun Fotos - Details

Fun Fotos 1977

Vintage print. Edition 2/7.
Image size: 8.5 x 12 cm.

Cavalier Set - Details

Cavalier Set 1977

Vintage print. Edition 2/5.
Image size: 8.5 x 12 cm.

Woman at the Window - Details

Woman at the Window 1977

Vintage print. Edition 2/5.
Image size: 12 x 8.25 cm.

Man on the Mattress - Details

Man on the Mattress 1977

Vintage print. Edition 2/6.
Image size: 10.75 x 8 cm.