Not on display
- Caroline Coon born 1945
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 912 × 762 mm
- Presented anonymously 2021
Self with Delphinium Age 70 2016 is a self-portrait of the artist painted in oil on canvas. Coon stands naked at the centre of the canvas gazing out towards the viewer. In her right hand she holds a blue delphinium flower and behind her there is a stylised floral pattern which has been transferred in grisaille onto a primed blank canvas. The painting was made when the artist was seventy years old and the texture of her ageing skin is central to the work. The work is shown unframed. Coon has used the same production method since art school: she works with oil paint thinned with turpentine and linseed oil and applies it to cotton duck canvas that is primed with rabbit skin glue. She sketches before each painting and the final sketch is squared for enlargement and then transferred to the canvas in grisaille.
This painting is part of a series of self-portraits that the artist has created since the early 1960s. They are direct and unflinching in their depiction of the female body (see also Self in Cock Mask 2003 [Tate T15775]). The importance of women having confidence and taking up physical space is central to Coon’s life and work, and she has noted: ‘Anyone with an interest in art has been schooled to venerate self-portraits by artists as old men, from Titian to Freud with Rembrandt at the apex of this mastery. Self-portraits that old women artists have made of themselves are usually hidden from view for the offence they are presumed to cause people’s aesthetic sensibilities.’ (Email correspondence with Tate curator Linsey Young, 22 September 2019.)
Throughout her personal and professional life, Coon has consistently experienced sexist abuse and violence, and the depiction of women revelling in their own bodies and sexuality is a central focus of her work. Discussing the earlier painting Self with Cock Mask, Coon explained that the staging of the portrait and the title of the work refer to her experience of women needing to assume a mask to engage with male-dominated society, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s: ‘How women have learned to be authoritative in the public space – not least as artists – is one of the most revolutionary stories of our times.’ (Email correspondence with Tate curator Linsey Young, 16 October 2020.)
In addition to her painting practice Coon is a significant subcultural figure. She was the founder and director of Release, the drugs agency which assisted people who had been arrested on drugs charges in the 1960s and supported figures such as The Beatles’ George Harrison and John Lennon. Her advocacy for and involvement in the feminist movement led to her being one of the women that writer Germaine Greer referenced in her dedications for The Female Eunuch (1970). Coon was also significantly involved in the Punk movement, providing artwork for bands and briefly managing The Clash. Coon was one of very few female journalists for Melody Maker in the 1970s and 1980s. She published the seminal book 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion in 1977, in addition to being artistic advisor on the cult film Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982).
Tim Jonze, ‘Caroline Coon Interview’, Guardian, 2 May 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/may/02/caroline-coon-artist-the-great-offender-clash, accessed 16 January 2021.
Caroline Coon, The Great Offender, exhibition catalogue, Tramps, London 2019.
Sean Burns, ‘The Art World Finally Wakes Up to Caroline Coon’, frieze, no.208, 5 November 2019, https://www.frieze.com/article/art-world-finally-wakes-caroline-coon, accessed 16 January 2021.
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