Promising 1982 Young Contemporary emerges from the wilderness
Since she first exhibited in the ICA’s 1982 Young Contemporaries show alongside Grayson Perry, Michele Howarth Rashman has been the shrinking violet of contemporary art. Having been kept afloat through the 1990s by the patronage of The Who’s John Entwhistle – ‘my only fan’ –, it was not until 2008 that Rashman once again emerged from the shadows, exhibiting in the highly acclaimed ‘You Dig The Tunnel and I’ll Hide the Soil’, alongside the big dogs – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, the Chapman Bros, and Cindy Sherman.
Now she presents her very first solo show, inspired by words that she once overheard in the post office – ‘there’s one in the village who calls himself Margaret’ – and featuring six hand-stitched head-and-shoulder bust sculptures alongside a selection of her ‘psychiatric knitwear’.
That she first exhibited with Grayson Perry is remarkably fitting, with Rashman’s practice (like Perry’s) defiantly craft-orientated, in stubborn rejection of on-trend digital media – while Perry opted the potter’s wheel, Rashman reached for knitting needles and a ball of wool.
In one sense, herein lies her downfall; with each bust being ‘insanely time consuming’ (taking between 3–12 months to complete), Rashman’s illusiveness after her promising start must, in part, be put down to low output rate. But, in another sense, such inefficiency is Rashman’s unique selling point, with her work engaging in the discourse of contemporary art through its defiant non-discursiveness. In refusing to engage directly in contemporary dialogue, she implicitly provides commentary; and ‘He Calls Himself Margaret’ indeed proves a charmingly rustic antidote for the numbness of high-production-value glitziness.
Not that the subject matter of her work is rustic – far from it! The busts present us with six horrifying visions of womanhood; post-rave, post-youth, post-pert, post everything. These are the deluded; the women who no longer have ‘it’, but, nonetheless, still flaunt it, with bad hair, bad skin, bad posture, and sad eyes. But, through the charity of the artist, they are endowed with dignity, saluted by Rashman for ‘trying their best’. After all, let them who are not deluded cast the first stone. Damien? Tracey? Jeff?
Words/ Photo Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst