Olivia Spencer Bower : the figurative works.
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Since the nineteen-forties figurative painting formed a major aspect of the work of Olivia Spencer Bower. Recently historians and feminist artists concerned with the relation between gender and art have drawn attention to how her identity as a woman has influenced her figurative painting in both the selection and treatment of themes. This thesis attempts to explore in detail the close connection between Spencer Bower's life experiences and her painting by concentrating on an examination of three principal series, the Rawene mother and child works, 'Getting About' and the Spinners. Chapter One examines the first major extended figurative series, which was produced when Spencer Bower, relieved of domestic duties, lived for a period in the small town of Rawene in 1948. The series constitutes an examination of the theme of motherhood and research into the circumstances of their production has revealed the extent to which social and political considerations at the time circumscribed her interpretation of the theme. The series discussed in Chapter Two studies elderly women and the process of growing old and has been shown to stem directly from her experiences of caring for her mother during the fifties. Her painting is related to work by other New Zealand women artists who have examined the theme by drawing on their observations and life experiences. Chapter Three examines the last and most extensive of the figurative series, the Spinners, produced during the sixties and seventies and related to her work of the previous decade. An analysis of the series reveals how it constitutes an extensive examination of the relationships between women and between women and the land. Spencer Bower was unusual among women artists of her generation because she expressed an awareness of a relation between her gender and art. This is supported by the connection established between her life and painting.