'The Best Way to Forget Until You Find Something You Want to Remember', Amy Winehouse, Bette Davis, Christine Keeler, Cob Gallery, If You Don't Want My Peaches (You Better Stop Shaking the Tree), Jean Harlow, Jeanne Eagels, Kim Novak, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Nina Mae Fowler, Rita Hayworth, The Letter
Nina Mae Fowler is a British artist who trained at the University of Brighton, and lives in Norfolk. Her latest solo exhibition, If You Don’t Want My Peaches (You’d Better Stop Shaking the Tree), on display at London’s Cob Gallery until September 28, borrows its title from an Irving Berlin song, and draws heavily on the iconography of Hollywood’s golden age. I was delighted to find Jeanne Eagels among the subjects, as she is often neglected. This portrait shows Jeanne in her penultimate movie (and only surviving talkie), The Letter (1929.)
Made from charcoal on paper and hand-mirrored glass, ‘The best way to forget, until you find something you want to remember’ borrows its title from David Hemmings’ 1978 film Just a Gigolo, starring David Bowie alongside Kim Novak and Marlene Dietrich. “For me it alludes to addiction and the struggle that an actress like Jeanne Eagels may have faced,” Nina explains. The anguished portrait below also takes its inspiration from The Letter.
Kim Novak, who played Jeanne in a much-derided biopic, appears in another of Fowler’s new works, showing Kim as she appeared in Otto Preminger’s heroin addiction melodrama, The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) with other scenes from film noir and real-life drug scandals like the death of comedian Lenny Bruce.
Bette Davis is seen here playing another volatile actress, Margo Channing, in All About Eve (1950), a film which also references Jeanne, as a theatre critic tells Margo that “once in a great while, I experience that moment of revelation for which all true believers wait and pray. You were one. Jeanne Eagels another …”
Marilyn Monroe, who had a small role in All About Eve, is a uniquely challenging subject for artists because she is so over-exposed; but over the years, Nina Mae Fowler has portrayed her in unusual ways.
Here we see Marilyn tucking into a hot dog with Davis, Jayne Mansfield and Dietrich. Entitled ‘Every Girl Crazy’ (perhaps for ZZ Top’s ‘Sharp-Dressed Man’), it reminds me of those paintings where Marilyn is paired with other stars, usually men.
Marilyn’s idol Jean Harlow is Nina’s favourite subject to draw, and I can see why: she’s an art deco goddess brought to life. Rita Hayworth, who played the character originated by Jeanne Eagels in Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), was featured in Nina’s lean-boards series in 2014.
And finally, Nina has also drawn – and etched – some modern-day icons close to my heart, from Christine Keeler (in an unfinished courtroom scene, juxtaposed with the Duchess of Argyll and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), to Amy Winehouse and Madonna.