In the back rooms of the Mayor Gallery, a rare gem is waiting to be seen: for the first time, 44 of Sylvia Plath‘s never exhibited before art works, including pictures of still and natural life, buildings and everyday objects, are framed and hung. This is the first (and possibly the last time) that all of the drawings are shown in a collective public show, as they are all up for sale. Frieda Hughes, the artist’s daughter, is selling the complete collection (apart from a portrait of her father, drawn by Plath).
it is impossible to stand in front of Plath’s drawings and not feel a chill travel down your spine. Not necessarily for the artistry, or skill involved; but from the overpowering sense that you are experiencing something unique, a moment in time that will not happen again; looking at a slice of someone’s life from a different scope.
Plath is mostly known for her poetry, tragically linked to her suicide. It is therefore a shock to the system to see the spill of her ink from words to images.
Even though most people will try to find the traces of Plath’s ending in her drawings, I could not. I found the drawings to be separated into two categories: the observational (with subjects like kettles, wine bottles, umbrellas, and still life); and the experiential (with pictures of Parisian memories, buildings, and natural life).
I found some of the pictures to contain a slight sense of humor (from the derelict Wuthering Heights now, to her black and White drawing entitled Colourful Kiosque near Louvre).
However, you can see how in the observational ones, Plath is experiencing the everyday in a deeper level. In her piece entitled the bell jar, two shoes are discarded on the floor. The picture has been linked with the same titled poem, especially the section in Chapter 12:
I had removed my patent leather shoes after a while, for they foundered badly in the sand. It pleased me to think they would be perched there on the silver log, pointing out to sea, like a sort of soul-compass, after I was dead.
You can imagine her getting lost in drawing the object she so carefully observes. You can see her arranging the world around her in order to draw it (mostly seen in the piece Still Life with Pots and Fruits).
I think that the greater aspect of the exhibition is that it lights another aspect of her personality, and humanises her artistry in a parallel way to her poetry. It manages to dissolve the initial ‘I did not know she drew’ by demonstrating how the two art are complimentary instead of alternative to each other.
If you have time, visit the gallery (and have a look at their amazing Dadamaino paintings as well -first picture-, divided into two rooms: first containing the Tempera on Canvas works; and the second with the perforated plastic sheets on wooden stretchers).
If you can not make it, you can see all of the pictures, on the Gallery’s website. It is really worth it.