A new exhibition of works by feminist artist Margaret Harrison and her late husband Conrad Atkinson will open at Cross Lane Projects, Kendal, this month. It is a rare opportunity to see the work of these two important artists together, and it is, in fact, the first time they have ever exhibited together. Late and Soon: The Works of Margaret Harrison and Conrad Atkinson at Cross Lane Projects looks at a lifetime of ground-breaking work from two artists who should be considered national treasures but are most certainly considered national provocateurs.
two artists who should be considered national treasures but are most certainly considered national provocateurs.
PayneShurvell, formerly a contemporary art gallery in Shoreditch, founded by art historian/curator James Payne and communications specialist/writer Joanne Shurvell, has partnered with Cross Lane Projects, Kendal, to present the exhibition, which will feature both historic and recently created works.
For more than 60 years, Margaret Harrison and Conrad Atkinson have been troublemakers. They are two of the most important political artists and activists working in the UK. Their controversial work has been banned, stolen and criticised but has always been held in high esteem and championed by critics and the public alike. Both artists are in collections all over the world, including the British Museum, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, MIA collection, FRAC Lorraine (France), BPS22 (Belgium), Les Abattoirs Musée (France), The Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (New York).
They met at Carlisle College of Art, were married in 1966 and worked in studios in London, California, and for the last 30 years have worked from studios in Cumbria. They were together until Atkinson’s death last year.
For decades, Harrison and Atkinson have worked independently of one another, but since her husband’s death, Harrison decided that for the first time, they should be exhibited together in a joint show. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to see two artists’ work, which, while radically different, is united in an unflinching and often provocative approach to social and political themes.
Margaret Harrison was one of the founders of the London Women’s Liberation Art Group in 1970. Her work examines the relationship between art, politics and feminism with biting wit. She is a true pioneer in gender politics, several decades before the term was adopted, and her parody of pin-up images in the 1970s questioned the idea of fixed sexuality. Her drawings have a pop art sensibility that critiques American pop culture but are shot through with sharp humour and irony. She is still working today in her eighth decade, producing powerful new work, some of which will be on show at Cross Lane, that continues to challenge us.
Conrad Atkinson was a teacher, artist and champion of feminism. As a professor in California from 1992, he set up the university’s first women’s art group and campaigned for equal pay for women. He was also an early advocate for The Troubles in Northern Ireland, land mines and AIDS. He addressed these issues in his work, in mediums as diverse as ceramics, photography, collage and textiles. Atkinson worked right up until his death last year, still pushing the boundaries of what art can say.
Mairtin O Muilleoir, former Lord Mayor of Belfast (and Director of the Belfast Media Group), once said Atkinson “was to pop art what the Sex Pistols were to punk rock: the first to the barricades, the rebellious iconoclast, the knife to the gut.”
One thing both artists have in common is controversy, with their work frequently banned and censored. Harrison was the first to be hit with a ban in 1971 when her debut solo show in London, which included a piece depicting Hugh Hefner as a Bunny Girl, was closed by police for indecency. Conrad Atkinson faced censorship for the first time in 1978, when Belfast’s Ulster Museum rejected a piece on The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
“Conrad and Margaret are two of the last century’s most influential and important artists. Their work is probably more relevant today than it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. With war, fake news, domestic abuse, equal rights and social inequality dominating our minds and social agendas across the world, Conrad and Margaret never held back from calling our society out.” – Jeremy Latimer (Lowood Arts).
Margaret Harrison is included in the exhibition Women In Revolt! Art, Activism and the Women’s Movement in the UK 1970–1990 opening at Tate Britain later this Year (8 Nov 2023 – 7 Apr 2024)
Late and Soon: The Works of Margaret Harrison and Conrad Atkinson, 20 May – 24 June 2023, Cross Lane Projects, Cross Lane, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 5LB