26 April 2024

Eileen Agar & Emma Witter: Tender Resurrection | opens 25 April

Exhibition : 25 April – 11 May 2024

Emma Witter’s inaugural solo exhibition at the gallery combines her recent sculptures with selected works by renowned British artist Eileen Agar (1899 – 1991). Tender Resurrection embodies an imagined dreamscape where memory, mythology and materiality weave wonder into the realm of daily existence. 

Celebrated as one of the most prolific and influential artists of the 20th century, Eileen Agar vehemently referred to herself as a Surrealist artist with a lowercase ‘s’. She worked and exhibited alongside the likes of Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Max Ernst and Lee Miller, and became one of the few women featured in the iconic International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 in London. The exhibition Tender Resurrection brings together Eileen Agar’s works on paper to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Surrealism with the publication of the First Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton in 1924.  Drawn to nature as a constant point of departure, Agar’s work dances between abstraction and Surrealism, juxtaposing mementos from her beachcombing adventures with organic and geometric forms in perpetual transition between the figurative and abstract. Her work Dancers, 1941 offers a dynamic cubist frottage of femininity, while Three Figures combines organic forms found in nature with bodies jutting at geometric angles. 

Emma Witter cites Agar’s reverence for nature, use of found marine objects and unorthodox juxtapositions as a profound influence on her own work. Working predominantly with biomass salvaged from restaurants, butchers and the River Thames, Witter extracts a forgotten beauty and wonder from organic materials such as bone. This harks back to the idea of repair, as bone has been used widely as an industrial byproduct throughout history. In her hands, eggshell, bone and coral become goblets in Ostrich egg goblets, 2023, masks Masks, 2023 and bouquets in Trade Bodies, 2023, offering discarded objects a tender resurrection. Juxtaposed with Agar’s intimate, vibrant ruminations on femininity and the natural world, Witter’s sculptures imagine bodies as castles – a meditation on what new structures might be  with the bricks and scaffolding we leave behind. 

Tender Resurrection stitches British Surrealism with contemporary biophilic sculpture, intertwining Agar’s ruminations on the subconscious and organic with Witter’s alchemic sensibilities. Amongst Agar’s works on paper and Witter’s delicate sculptures, the gallery invites the viewer to enter the space to experience a tender reverie of transience and to recall the transformative power of Agar’s “womb-magic” an energetic “feminine type of imagination.”

About the artist

Emma Witter (b. 1989, Hertfordshire) studied Performance Design and Practice at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, BA, London (2009-2012) and has a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design from London College of Fashion, London (2008). Recent selected solo and group exhibitions include: Small Ceremonies, A.P.A.P. Art Space, Seoul (2023); TERRA, Apsara Studio, Beaune (2023); Victorian Gold, London Craft Week, London (2023); Colour, Texture, Substance, No Name, Warbling Collective at Kingsgate Project Space, London (2023); In Residence, Ting Ying Gallery, London (2023); Uncommon Beauty, Makers Guild, Wales (2023); A Moveable Feast, The Portman Estate, London (2022); Claylarks, The New Craftsmen Gallery, London (2022); Leave the road; take the trail, Xenia Creative Retreat, North Hampshire (2022); Death & Animals, Odem Atelier Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden (2021); Together – The Power of Collaboration, Gallery FUMI, London (2021); Triggered Economics, 34 Bruton Street, London (2021); Crafting a Difference, SoShiro Gallery, London (2021); House of Bandits, Sarabande Foundation at Burberry, London (2020); Blanc de Chine, The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh (2020); It’s Good to be Home, Gallery FUMI, London (2020) among others. She was the recipient of the Barcapel Foundation Developing Creative Practice Grant (2022) and won Eccentric Artist of the Year in The Eccentric Club Awards (2015). Emma Witter is a former studio resident at Sarabande, the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, Selfridges (London) and the Xenia Creative Retreat (North Hampshire). 

Eileen Agar (1899 – 1991) was born in Buenos Aires in 1899, and moved to London with her parents in 1911. She studied art in London and in Paris, where she met the Surrealists and formed significant friendships with André Breton and Paul Éluard. In 1936, Agar gained international recognition through her participation in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, where she became associated with Surrealism through her relationship with Paul Nash. Nature, especially the seaside, became a recurring theme in her art. She had a relationship with Paul Nash who introduced her to the idea of the ‘found object’; she later married the poet Joseph Bard. Agar’s artistic journey continued with extensive travel, including a memorable trip to Brittany to photograph the distinctive coastal boulders. During World War II, Agar returned to London and hosted a surrealist farewell dinner for refugee artists heading to the United States. The war had a psychological impact on her work, but in the 1950s she found inspiration in the Canary Islands, where she painted and exhibited. Agar was a painter who experimented with collage, assemblage, and photography. She had numerous exhibitions in Britain and abroad including Museum of Modern Art, Hayward Gallery and is represented in the Tate, The Hepworth, Wakefield, Whitworth Art Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum and Museum of New Zealand collections amongst others . She remained active in the art world, experiencing a resurgence during the Surrealist revival of the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the publication of her memoirs she continued to create until her death in 1991. She died in London in 1991. A major retrospective of her work, Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy, was held in 2021 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. In 2024, Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York held a solo exhibition of her works from 1936 to 1989.