Currently on display in the McAulay Gallery in Burlington Gardens, The Secret to a Good Life is something of a family affair of an exhibition. The project by Bob and Roberta Smith RA, tells the story of his artist mother Deirdre Borlase and her relationship with the RA (and to an extent her artist husband) and art itself.
It is a moving tribute to a mother he clearly admires and respects that sadly died earlier this year. The core that the project is built around is a conversation Bob and Roberta Smith had with his mother in her care home. Asked what the secret to a good life is, she replied ‘get a good pencil! a 2B or a 3B not an HB they are for architects’ something that she learnt as a small girl when she started to draw, a time that set her on her path in life.
Bob and Roberta Smith traces his mother’s life as an artist through the post war period and the difficulties she had as a female artist and a traditional artist in a time of Pop Art’s domination. Her artist husband could be resentful at times of her success, while the RA, despite having two female founding members were misogynistic in the extreme. She found that she had better success being picked for the Summer Exhibition if she hid her sex from the hanging committee by signing her work D. Borlase and letting their narrow minds assume it was a man.
You’ll find a number of Borlase’s works in the exhibition along side large brightly painted sculptures and boards made from scrap wood. These bright cheery pieces by Bob and Roberta Smith bear an important message. They chart woman in art and the RA, his mother’s life, and how he learnt to draw with his mother’s help, using a Christmas pudding as his subject.
It is, as said, a moving tribute to an intriguing woman, raising questions about the art world, it’s thoughtful and cheerful at the same time. It is this juxtaposition that makes it so powerful and leaves it with you.
The Secret to a Good Life
The Ronald & Rita McAulay Gallery at the RA
Admission is Free
4th September 2018 – 3rd February 2019