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CHRIS AVIS: FACE VALUE

Chris Avis has been working on portraits of older women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. A photographic exploration that reveals the power behind the female ageing process.

Artist Chris Avis is searching for women in their 80s to photograph. “I try to draw out the spirit of the person. Sometimes women in their mid 80s are tiny and your first reaction would be ‘she is fragile’ but the more I photograph women the more I could see the power”, says Chris at the Park Theatre where she had a solo show in August.

In Time Passing Chris starts with a conventional portrait and then manipulates the film at her Highbury home-studio, using charcoal, chalk, paint, talcum and ink. She may even sprinkle it with gold or acid. She then re-photographs the layers to produce fascinating glimpses of an older face criss-crossed with lines like cracking ice.

“Reaction to my work varies a lot. Some people wrinkle their nose up because it doesn’t connect with them. I don’t mind. I’m not making pretty pictures,” explains Chris. 

“I’ve always been an artist but I had 12 years doing a job which took every inch of my time,” explains Chris, 67. “When I gave up paid employment it gave me the time to use every minute of my life fully.” There was one snag – she was 61 and found that “having sold widely in her 30s and 40s, before my job [in further education] now no one was interested.”

In an attempt to understand if older British women artists faced bigger hurdles in the art world she used a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to visit Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam in 2013. This led to a successful Open Lab opportunity at the Barbican Guildhall. Here Chris worked with older visual and performing professional artists, who explored ideas related to the Third Age and creativity.  Two short films resulted from this collaboration.

If you missed her show, do pay an online visit to her website www.chrisavisartist.com to enjoy the portraits.

If you’ve been cheated of your creativity by a busy working life, do consider Chris’s wise advice: “Being older should empower you,” says Chris. “It’s not how many years you have been on this planet, it’s that the spirit has got more powerful and determined. I think I might not be here for longer, so I’ve nothing to lose.”

During May Chris Avis led a self-portrait class with artists at the Drovers Centre, which saw their finished work exhibited at the Park Theatre.

DRAWN TOGETHER

It’s never too late explore your inner creativity, meet new people and aid your local community through art.

Find exhibition space at Voluntary Action Islington. www.vai.org.uk

Join art classes and community projects for elders at Cubitt Artists, 8 Angel Mews, N1. www.cubittartists.org.uk/education/eldersandcommunity

Age UK Islington runs art classes at the Drovers Centre every Tuesday and Thursday. See listings here.

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