Central St Martins fine art graduate Christabel MacGreevy kicked off her career as a fashion illustrator making work for LOVE magazine. Having garnered public attention with her patch brand Itchy Scratchy Patchy, which she co-founded with her friend model Edie Campbell, the London-born artist went on to pursue an MA in drawing at The Royal Drawing School.
Today marks the opening of Christabel’s first solo show Glut at Lamb Arts. Glut gathers together drawings, tapestry and quilts, in the process of reclaiming traditionally “feminine” art forms. Broadly inspired by Carol Rama, Louise Bourgeoise, Courbet, Sappho and Lynette Yiadom Bokye, Christabel’s latest work is centred around Virginia Woolf’s genderfluid novel Orlando.
We caught up with the artist to hear more.
Why is Orlando relevant to your work as an artist now?
I first read Orlando aged about 17 and I was totally obsessed. The character of Orlando starts life as a young nobleman in medieval England, and ends life as a middle aged woman, driving her car through the English country lanes in the 1950s, having had 400 years of life and experience. The symbol of a woman, behind the wheels of her own car, the engine vibrating in front of her is such clear power and dominance. But the thing about _Orlando-, is that her gender makes no real difference to the essence of the person and personality that you follow through the book. The book Orlando is about fluidity, and freedom, and non conformity. It was first published in 1928 but feels on point and relevant nearly 100 years later.
How do Glut, and your work as a whole, aim to explore female identity? What does this gender identity meant to you?
I started my exploration of female identity with quite a literal exploration on the theme, looking at talismans and fertility charms in the British Museum. Although the creation of new life requires equal parts male and female fertility, most of these icons were in the image of a woman. Although there were a few snakes, here and there, the image of a mother and child or pregnant woman is so much more readable as a visual symbol, that many of these cultures boiled down the essence of fertility to just the image of a woman. These fertility charms were for the land, as well as flourishing families and heirs. This historical approach to self-discovery serves to strengthen my own perceptions and trajectory as both an artist and a woman.
Glut is based on your own experiences playing with gender as a child. Can you tell us more about that?
When I was a small child, up until perhaps the age of 10, I wanted to be a boy. I don’t know if you could say I identified as a boy, but I definitely decided to take action to look like one and be treated like one. Perhaps in essence I was a feminist – I could see there was a difference between the way I was treated, and the boys were treated, and I found it unfair. I heard the phrase, boys will be boys, and I thought, why will boys be boys? I found that so irritating and unjust. So instead of combatting it, I decided to just be a boy, wore boys clothes and made everyone call me Chris.
As an adult now, I identify as a woman, and this is a key part of how I understand and perceive my identity. Understanding the signs and signifiers of what people interpret as ‘feminine’ is a very useful tool for disarming and utilising. Without a normal, or certain accepted ideals of what ‘femininity’ is, you cannot subvert from the expected. Once you understand these you can play with them. It is playing with the expected and playing with what makes up femininity.
What is your preferred medium? How do the hangings and drawings work together in the show?
Included in this exhibition are some woven wall hangings. I really like the ‘female’ tradition of textile art, thinking specifically about women artists from the first wave of feminism, like Judy Chicago. The inclusion of this wall hanging, depicting a nude female form, is a reference to the ‘feminine’ within female art practise.
I love the control and simplicity of drawing. All you need is paper. And a surface to work from. It is the quickest way to execute a thought in your mind into a readable symbol existing in the world.