The world will now be a bit more ordinary, following the passing of Australian curator Jennifer Phipps on August 21, 2014.
Jennifer was an esteemed friend and colleague of RMIT Gallery. RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said she was saddened by Jennifer’s death, and paid respect to an independent, creative thinker who brought a fresh perspective to every project.
“Jennifer was generous and a wise mentor and a brilliantly unpredictable curatorial force in Australian art,” she said.
We pay tribute with this extract of a catalogue essay Jennifer Phipps contributed to RMIT Gallery’s 2007 exhibition ‘Fashion Face: Fashion Photography by Robyn Beeche 1979 – 1989’.
This extract is accompanied by installation images from the exhibition.
In this essay, Jennifer acknowledged discussions she had with Robyn Beeche.
The London Look of Robyn Beeche (catalogue extract)
By Jennifer Phipps
Robyn Beeche was a key artist in creating and disseminating the London look of the early 1980s: New Romanticism or New Puritanism that may be characterized as satirical rebellion through flamboyant aestheticism. It was an alternative to Britain’s Conservative government, growing unemployment, economic recession and the British class system.
Vivienne – a look for the 1980s was commissioned in 1979 for the first edition of a new London magazine, Now! Beeche, asked to create the look for the future, found it at The Blitz Club, London, where post-punk music and styles were first played out. Here she photographed Willie Brown’s fashion parade of his Puritan collection based on traditional Austrian peasant costume.
This photograph launched the New Romantic look in London. Vivienne is austerely crisp and spotless, dressed in an Elizabethan ruff that Willie Brown designed on the spot, and is made up as a Puritan by the Australian make–up artist Richard Sharah. Beeche took a photograph that is exceptional for its flatness and uniform whiteness. It hints at the German and Bauhaus films, and art from all ages, that stimulate Beeche’s invention.
In 1980s’ London, Beeche kept an open studio for innovative artists in fashion and in hair and make-up. Costs were shared and people worked co-operatively. For these portraits, elaborate make-up that could take twelve hours to apply was first drawn up on paper, lighting was calculated meticulously and there was little thought of personal reward in a heated atmosphere of mutual creativity. (In a later commercial photograph, Four-face II 1987, Beeche ran out to Soho, while Phyllis Cohen applied the make-up, to buy and paste up the multi-language collage of newspapers that underline a message: the versatility of the face.)
Steve Strange of Visage, founder of The Blitz Club, introduced Beeche to The Blitz, and together she and Richard Sharah did Strange’s 1980 record cover Fade to Grey, as well as his Visage record single sleeves. The same year, Beeche photographed Leigh Bowery in the bedroom of his council flat, against his Star Trek wallpaper. He called this look “A Paki from Outer Space”. Part Hindu God, his costume could be that of a Whirling Dervish but for its extra arms – a style taken up by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The elaborate, brilliant make-up, extravagant and sexually diverse costumes, the transformed bodies of the New Puritans like Bowery and dancer Michael Clarke, come partly from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character of 1972. The Blitz had opened with a Bowie night in 1979.