As women we’re often inspired by other women in the public eye who, whether we like it or not, help determine what we look up to in the world of fashion and style.
However, when it comes to art, for some reason we tend to pay little attention to the world of women artists.
And that’s to our own detriment as there are an abundance of inspirational female artists out there who have laid the groundwork for art that’s beautiful and brash, gorgeous and gutsy, real and surreal.
Let’s explore 11 extraordinary female artists and how you too can ‘get the look’ without relying on a lotto win.
1. Georgia O’Keefe
Famous for painting oversized flowers, Georgia O’Keefe’s work was bold and innovative during its time. Born in 1887, O’Keefe died aged 99 after a lifetime of now iconic artistic practice.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico features the artist’s paintings and her inspirations. According to the museum O’Keefe was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.”
As well as painting flowers, she would paint larger than life leaves, rocks, shells and skulls. The result was as often as realistic as it was abstract.
Her extraordinary floral work Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932 is presently the most expensive painting ever sold at auction by a female artist.
Her legacy to the arts combined with educational art workshops at her namesake museum means her breakthrough, yet timeless work continues to inspire artists, particularly those who share her love of flowers.
2. Helen Frankenthaler
A lyrical abstract expressionist from New York, Helen Frankenthaler’s work set abstract paintings on a new path with her technique of staining pigment into raw canvas. Called ‘Colour Field’ Frankenthaler, as described in The New York Times, would pour “turpentine-thinned paint in watery washes onto the raw canvas so that it soaked into the fabric weave, becoming one with it.”
The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, established while the artist was still alive, is dedicated to promoting greater public interest in and understanding of visual arts.
Her works Overture from 1992 and Tutti-Fruitti from 1966 are just two examples of decades upon decades of beautiful abstract works that have inspired generations of artists to follow.
4. Agnes Martin
Often considered a minimalist, Agnes Martin referred to herself as an abstract expressionist. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her 40s, she was a solitary artist who found comfort in Zen Buddhism and Taoism.
According to The Guardian she “left New York and went off-grid before reappearing in New Mexico.”
After producing a lifetime of beautiful work, she died at 92 painting her last masterpiece only weeks before her death.
She experimented with colour transitioning, colour contrasting, shapes and stripes to create cutting-edge works of geometric abstraction.
5. Elaine Sturtevant
Sturtevant, who went only by her last name, was a master of appropriation which is the art of using pre-existing images or objects and recreating them with limited transformation.
Often using ‘repetition’ the works were designed to explore concepts around creativity, authenticity and artistic celebrity.
As a conceptual artist her works might remind you of contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and – like those pop artists – she was equally criticised, venerated and dismissed.
This piece, below, is perhaps inspired in part by Sturtevant’s passion for repetition (the diamonds and circles), but also by the piece Peinture à Haute Tension (Matial Raysse) 1970 which took an image of a woman and converted it to become unique pop art.
6. Yayoi Kusama
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is an avant-garde contemporary artist born in 1929 and still working today in New York City. According to the Queensland Art Gallery, who held an exhibition of her work in 2012, she has a “long-term fascination with pattern, reflection and infinite space.”
Obsessed with polka dots, her style is eclectic with inspirations drawn from feminist, minimalist and surrealist movements as well as Art Brut, abstract expressionism and pop art.
Her work, particularly pieces like Untitled, 1967, is so bright and colourful that it’s hard not to fall in love with it, even those who aren’t instantly drawn to abstractionism.
Her top 10 pieces range in price from $2.1 million to $7.1 million, so thank goodness for those who leave and breathe her style as inspiration.
7. Tracey Emin
An English contemporary artist, Tracey Emin’s work is often autobiographical and confessional. Her gusty, audacious style with works like Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 has already emboldened many new young contemporary artists, particularly women.
Emin is a storyteller who, according to Artsy reveals “intimate details of her life with brutal honesty and poetic humor.”
This canvas print Meditation, below, is no doubt inspired by Emin’s Monoprints – No More Mirror, 2009 embroidered on cotton.
8. Jenny Saville
Known for her large scale depictions of nude women, Jenny Saville is a contemporary British painter who’s captivated by the human form.
Gagosian highlights that Saville “makes a highly sensuous and tactile impression of surface and mass in her monumental oil paintings.”
She has been attributed to having reinvented classical figure painting, but in a contemporary context, focusing mostly on the female form but also transgender people as well.
9. Nan Goldin
While we’re feeling daring, let’s take a moment to learn more about the work of New York fine art photographer Nan Goldin.
Until discovering the camera as a teenager, Goldin used drugs to cope with the loss of her sister by suicide. Her obsession with the camera changed her whole world, photographing both the personal and the political.
While many of Goldin’s pictures are of people, she also has an extraordinary ability to capture the mood of a natural scene, as in Trees by the river, Munich, 1994.
But much of her photography is quite dark, controversial and honest with depictions of sex, beauty, death, intoxication, violence and pain.
10. Pipilotti Rist
Installation artist Pipilotti Rist’s works are extraordinary, with film and video being her mainstay. They imbue freedom and inspire relaxation.
One of Rist’s most recent exhibitions was ‘Sip My Ocean’, exploring the relationship between technology, nature and the body.
11. Bridget Riley
“The music of colour, that’s what I want” – Bridget Riley
English painter Bridget Riley is an optical artist, someone who creates art using optical illusions. Often abstract pieces, her work is mostly black and white, but some colour does rise to the occasion.
Op Art rose to prevalence in the swinging 60s and, according to Op Art UK, became cool and “Bridget Riley became Great Britain’s number one art celebrity”.