Annie Nightingale

Britain’s forgotten female pop artist 

For a brief moment in the 1960s the artist Pauline Boty had it all

'Colour Her Gone', 1962, by Pauline Boty. Image: Wolverhampton Art Gallery / Gazelli Art House

T o describe Pauline Boty as a ‘pioneer’ is a bit like calling someone a ‘one-off’. It’s not an adequate description of her in any way. Pauline was the only female British pop-art painter of the early 1960s. You may not know of her. She died in 1966, aged 28, and her name has remained very much in obscurity ever since.

Pauline, in her youth, appeared to have it all. She had movie-star looks, a provocative intelligence and a magnetic personality. ‘She was beautiful, with this marvellous laugh: clever, very bright, very much the early feminist,’ says designer Celia Birtwell, who lived with her.

Male interviewers would ask: ‘What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?’

She hung out with acclaimed pop artists such as Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and David Hockney. And her signature paintings of the great cultural figures of the day – Jean-Paul Belmondo, Elvis, an ethereal Marilyn Monroe in a painting she entitled ‘The Only Blonde In The World’ (1963) – are striking and bright. Her collages often featured giant fairground-themed borders, and the work was frequently erotic. She described her art as a ‘nostalgia for now’.

She had interests other than the newly emerging pop culture. She began a movement called the Anti-Uglies, campaigning against especially unsightly post-war architecture in central London. This gained the tall blonde considerable media interest. But her male interviewers would often ask things like: ‘What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?’

Her accountant father opposed her going to art college. But she won a scholarship to Wimbledon Art School and studied stained glass. It was a start. Still a teenager, she graduated to the Royal College of Art but wasn’t given a place to study painting. The RCA didn’t even have women’s loos at this time.

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