Pop Art Pauline

Whilst researching for a documentary on the artist Sir Peter Blake a year or so ago, one name kept popping up in the early 60s material. It was a name I that knew, but I confess, not one I knew well.

It was the artist Pauline Boty. A familiar figure in the burgeoning London Pop Art scene of the time, she was the only woman to make an early impact, and then she was gone.

Taking a side street in the research to check out more on her life and work, I was saddened to read that she had died at the ridiculously young age of just 28 in 1966.

She and her work have been largely forgotten for many years, but recently that has changed and her and her work is now getting the recognition it richly deserves.

Born in Croydon in 1938, she grew up in Carshalton. Awarded a scholarship to the Wimbledon School of Art in 1954, she attended despite her father’s disapproval. Whilst there she was dubbed ‘The Wimbledon Bardot’ due to a resemblance to the French film actress.

She went on to study at The Royal College of Art in the late 1950s alongside the likes of Boshier, Caulfield, Blake and Hockney.  Whilst there she became the secretary of in the ‘Anti Uglies’ an action group against poor quality and offensive architecture.

Originally trained as a stained glass artist, the result of it being almost impossible to get into the school of painting as a female back then, her early art showed the distinct influence of Cezanne and Chagall. Slowly however, the subject matters moved on to a world of film, pop and advertising, all of which infused her work within a year or so.

She had discovered collage and her eye, developed by her stained glass background, was tuned into the use of colour and figures within the compositions, alongside Americana, national flags, images of the Vietnam war, the Cuban missile crisis, Christine Keeler, and toy guns among much else.

Boty, with her natural adventurous outlook on life took to the 60s energetically. She was very much in the middle of the eye of the creative storm around here. She was photographed by Bailey for Vogue, appeared in the superb 1961 Ken Russell film ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ as well popping up in glamour photo shoots for the likes of ‘Tit Bits’ and ‘Men Only.’ She danced on Ready Steady Go, acted, making a brief appearance in the film ‘Alfie’ – she was the girl in the shop window of the one day cleaners – and is said to have inspired ‘Liz’ the easy going character portrayed by Julie Christie in the film ‘Billy Liar.’

However, despite the free spirited classic type casted 60s ‘dolly bird’ image, she made sure it didn’t get in the way of the art. In fact she poured much of the life she was living, into her work. ‘Pop’ imagery was set against a boldness of colour and highlights of her art include ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ from 1963 featuring her heroine Marilyn Monroe,  ‘It’s A Man’s World II’ and ‘54321’ featuring Cathy McGowan the Ready Steady Go presenter. Her final painting ‘Bum’ was commissioned by art critic and writer Kenneth Tynan for his cabaret ‘Oh! Calcutta!

She had married literary agent Clive Goodwin in 1963 and fell pregnant in 1965. Whilst having a pre natal examination it was discovered she was suffering from cancer. Fearing the chemotherapy treatment would harm her unborn child, she refused it.

Instead, she smoked marijuana in an attempt to ease the pain. Just five months after giving birth to a daughter, Boty lost her life. Tragically, her daughter Boty (christened Katy) Goodwin, herself an artist, died of an overdose just after her graduation in 1995.

Boty’s remaining work was put in storage for over 30 years by her brother, before being rediscovered, leading to major retrospectives of her art and an re-evaluation of Boty herself.

Both long overdue.

The Mumper of SE5

British pop artist Pauline Boty (1938 – 1966), circa 1963. (Photo by Tony Evans/Getty Images)