Deenagh Miller on Frances Conway - A portrait of a 20th century woman artist
In the subsequent years following her death in September 2010, Frances' family and friends have considered how best to preserve not only her artworks but her legacy in the form of her ideas and observations on the nature of art and artists.
Frances gave a lot of thought to the role and purpose of the artist in society, as well as to the process of making art; and she was always acutely aware of the historical struggle women had had to become artists and still do. Until approx the middle of the 20th Century it was almost impossible for a woman to become an artist.
Frances would have been one of the first going to college in the forties and was made "Woman of the Week" in 1955 for her family portraits and landscapes. In her own lifetime she came long way, from a background that wouldn't usually have predisposed her to become an artist. Hers was a large family, there were 10 children - she was the last but one and strove hard to achieve what she did. As a child she experienced wartime evacuation which she said left her with a feeling of being an "outsider" - not dissimilar to that of the artist who is not accepted by society.....?
Frances was not afraid of, nor a stranger to controversy. She had the strength of her convictions which gave her the courage to speak out, frequently challenging in meetings and letters (sometimes to the press!) the RWA which was the target of comment if not downright criticism for its failure in both democratic practice and in failing to admit a younger generation to join at a critical time in its survival. Frances was a fierce defender of principles; of injustice, equality and fairness - she was articulate, passionate and determined in argument and discussion. There is one aspect in terms of her legacy she would really like to see work - that being the Internet in the form of links to the websites of women artists. For although things are vastly different to the artistic climate of 50 years ago much still needs to be done. Women artists are still not considered for the role of "The country's greatest living artist" as Freud and Hockney are now regarded.
Definitely something of a trailblazer Frances had both a family and a successful career as an artist in her own right. And those who knew her well recall with fondness her striking beauty, natural grace and sense of personal style and even more importantly her warmth and powerful presence.
Born in 1931, Frances’ life and work spans a significant period of the 20th century and a decade of the new one until her death in September 2010.
A committed and dedicated painter whose work had more than one dimension.
She was ahead of her time in using 'found' objects for imaginative and sculptural creations to make comment about art, society and the individual; innovative and inventive with 'spray paintings' which became a method successfully used by other artists and when working in new territory.
Frances always regularly practiced the discipline of life drawing - there are many many outstanding examples of these from her days as a student.
People feature constantly in her output, her family, friends and just those she wished to record for their individuality. Travels abroad always produced work – some of the Moroccan paintings are the most beautiful, dramatic and arresting of these.
Firmly rooted in observation always, her pictures have that feeling of reflecting reality seen and felt – a need to seek the truth of what is seen.
In character and personality Frances was a force to be reckoned with, driven almost; a strong defender of justice.
In her professional and personal life she was quick to come to the defense of those who needed it.
Constantly questioning art, she thoroughly enjoyed debating all aspects of the vast territory of art! Always a champion of younger artists......