Dorothy Mead

1928–1975

Dorothy Mead, 'Chessboard' 1958
Chessboard 1958
© The estate of Dorothy Mead
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Biography

Dorothy Mead (1928–1975) was a British painter.

Mead was born in London, England, but adopted at three months old by a family in Walthamstow. Her mother had a florists shop She first met David Bomberg (1890–1957) when he was teaching at the South east Essex School of Art at Dagenham School of Art in 1944. She followed him when he moved to the City Literary Institute in London and then to the Borough Polytechnic where she studied under Bomberg from 1945 to 1951. Mead was a founder member of the Borough Group in 1946 together with other pupils of Bomberg including Cliff Holden.

From 1956 until 1959, Mead was a mature student at the Slade School of Art, following Bomberg's inspiration. Here she met artist and teacher Andrew Forge. She had a major influence on students such as Patrick Procktor and Mario Dubsky and was the first woman president of the student annual exhibiting society, Young Contemporaries (later renamed New Contemporaries), in 1959. The previous year, the Slade awarded her the Figure Painting Prize, and the Steer Prize. In 1959 she was asked to leave the Slade, in spite of her award-winning work, because she refused to sit the course on perspective. She believed - with Bomberg - that the stylistic approach was invalid. Her thesis, explaining her view was not accepted by the principal, William Coldstream.

In the Arts Council England series of touring exhibitions, Six Young Painters, Mead exhibited in 1964 with other artists including Peter Blake, William Crozier, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and Euan Uglow. Mead joined the London Group of artists in 1960. The New Statesman, the left-wing magazine singled her out, when critic David Sylvester remarked she tends to affirm the supremacy of light, as women's painting often does. Holden, her partner said Dorothy sticks to her principals, but like myself and Bomberg was an outsider.

From 1964, Mead arrived as lecturer at Goldsmith's College"like a breath of fresh air" according to pupil and painter Barry Martin. She swept aside the old gentlemanly bohemian and class pretensions that she thought "stubborn preconceptions". Her family saw her "living on the edge" of reality all the time. She worked in a garret studio in Ladbroke Grove; yet went up to Berkeley Square to buy paints. She was described by art dealer, Dennis Creffield as having an "abundant personality...a great love of art...stylish in appearance." Her daring, precarious act of existential expressionism can be seen in The Acrobat, an exhibition of 1970 at Borough Road Gallery.

She was President from 1971–73, succeeding Andrew Forge, a progressive art historian with whom she was long associated, and also had an affair. Mead spent two spells teaching at Morley College: between 1963-5 she taught 'Painting', and from 1973-75 she taught 'Drawing & Painting' ("for advanced students of some considerable experience") and 'Improvisation from the Model' in the Morley Summer Painting School. Dorothy Mead was also a part-time lecturer at Chelsea College of Art in London between 1962-64. She was a radical feminist with a principled individualism - she once remarked that if she changed her name to George, she stood a greater chance of selling her work!

The collection of the Tate Gallery and other art museums include work by Mead. Mead's paintings were shown at the 1991 exhibition Bomberg and his Legacy, held in Eastbourne at the Towner Art Gallery. In 2005, a retrospective exhibition was held thirty years after her death. Despite the esteem she had earned from fellow artists, it was her first ever solo exhibition.

Following her death on 12 June 1975, many of Dorothy Meads paintings were stolen from a secure warehouse in Essex. Mrs Valerie Long, her sister is the holder of Dorothy's works and should be contacted prior to the purchase of any paintings around the world. Those not in the public gallery are also sold by Waterhouse & Dodd.

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