On the darkest of dark and stormy nights, the teenage Mary Shelley awoke from a nightmare. In her vision she saw a young man, a ‘pale student of unhallowed arts’, kneeling over his creation. The image inspired one of the most enduring horror works of our time: Frankenstein. But Mary Shelley was not just a mistress of the gothic. Born to one of the most influential proto-feminists of our age, Mary Wollstoncraft, and political radical and anarchist William Godwin, Mary moved in intellectual and artistic circles that would often overshadow her own greatness. But great she was. A woman who suffered and overcame tremendous loss, she was a survivor who spoke to some of the greatest anxieties of her – and our – time. But she was also a travel writer, an editor, a biographer and feminist. Join us as we steal away in the night to traverse the stormy crossing from England to France and curl up by a fire to hear the tale of the original teen goth, Mary Shelley.
Hilma af Klint
In the 1960s, vice-admiral Erik af Klint opened a crate of art. It had been left to him by his aunt with strict instructions that it should remain sealed for some twenty years after her death. What Erik found was a remarkable cache of work that would throw into question everything we believe about the beginning of abstract art. You see, five years before Kadinsky and Mondrian began their forays into abstractionism, a Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint had received a special commission: to create a remarkable collection of work that would adorn a spiral temple. But who was this great benefactor? It was no businessman or high-ranking official, but rather the High Master Amaleil, who communicated the missive to af Klint in a séance she held regularly with her closest friends, a collective of women known as ‘The Five’. af Klint went on to create an extraordinary body of boldly colourful, geometric and highly symbolic art, all guided by the spirtual masters with whom she regularly communed.
So, light some candles and settle in as we delve into the fascinating world of Theosophy, Rosicrucianism and Hilma af Klint’s astonishing proto-abstractionism!
At the turn of the twentieth-century, in the rowdy streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a young Bessie Smith was literally singing for her supper. Busking alongside her brother, Bessie learned the hard way just what it took to capture an audience against the odds: to sing and dance and demand attention despite the clatter of carts and the shouts of storeowners and vendors selling their wares. This early foray into the performing life would help shape Smith into the greatest performer of her age, rising up to the heights of Empress of the Blues and becoming the highest paid black entertainer of her day. In her private life she was just as bold and brash as her stage persona, never shying away from saying what she thought and more than happy to get into a fistfight or two. So put the needle on some vinyl and join us as we get down and bluesy with Bessie Smith.
By the end of the 1920s, the U.S. was rocked by financial and ecological disasters that saw it spiral into the Great Depression. At the same time, the advent of sound film was ushering in the golden age of American animation, and with it, one of history’s most iconic film makers: Walt Disney. While Disney would become a household name, at the heart of his finest work were countless unsung artists and animators; one of the most legendary among them was Mary Blair. With a background in watercolour and fine arts, Blair’s use of bold colours and shapes would go on to cement her reputation as one of the most influential artists in the Disney story. But she would leave more than just her legacy at Disney, devoting her working life to creating the kind of art that dreams are made of. So gather your woodland animal friends about you as we take a break from our last few darker episodes and go goofy (sorry) for the art and flair of Mary Blair.
In the dark and seedy cabarets of Weimar Berlin, where sex was a performance and decadence was king, one woman ruled the room. Born to artist parents at the turn of the century, Anita Berber was destined for a life on the stage. Famed for her kohl-rimmed eyes, her bright red hair, and her provocative burlesque, Berber became an underground sensation. But she was just as infamous for her scandalous bisexual affairs and hotel orgies as her avante-garde performances, and with dances named ‘Cocaine’, ‘Morphine’, and ‘Asylum’, you know she partied as hard as she danced! So join us in the end-of-the-world liberalism of Weimar Germany as we trace this Expressionist queen to the stage and beyond!
Pamela Colman Smith
Famous today as the overlooked illustrator of the influential Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, in her own time Pamela Colman Smith was something of an enigma. Known for her lively and enchanting Jamaican folklore performances, her publishing press and literary magazine, and for her extraordinary miniature theatre, Pamela – Pixie to her friends – wove magical worlds where women had agency and gender was fluid. But she was also a woman cloaked in mystery, and who was often Othered by her contemporaries. Join us, together with PCS scholar Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, as we travel from England to Jamaica, New York and Cornwall, tracing this elusive and enigmatic woman.
Celebrated as the iconic model and muse for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall has become one of the most recognisable faces in the history of Western art. However, famed for her beauty and romanticised for her tragic personal life, Lizzie Siddall’s own art and poetry was largely brushed aside, diminished by the grandeur of the “great men” who surrounded her. Come with us as we button our bonnets and prepare for some grave-digging in order to examine the mythic story of her life and death, and the long undervalued significance of her own work.
From conservative Melbourne to the Bohemian underworld of Paris’ Rive Gauche, and a wild mountain hideaway in Positano, Vali Myers led a life like no other. Heralded as the original hippy and the muse of beatniks and hipsters, Vali Myers was an artist, dancer and environmentalist who left entire movements in her wake. After living on the streets and dancing in jazz clubs to stay alive, she went on to establish a wildlife sanctuary in Italy where she painted profound images of the sacred, nature and the feminine. Join us as we uncover the extraordinary life of the woman dubbed the Witch of Positano.
Born in the early hours of a thunderstorm, with pointed ears and ‘witches’ marks’ on her skin, little Rosaleen was destined for a life of the occult. From her earliest childhood, Roie was drawn to the dark, and her drawings and stories about ghouls, monsters and grotesque horrors set her apart from her peers. As a young woman, she immersed herself in Theosophy, Western Esoterism, dedicated herself to the pagan god, Pan, and pursued a life of art. Come with us to the dingy streets of mid-century Sydney, where Rosaleen’s occult paintings and pagan ways made her infamous as the Witch of King’s Cross.
From a progressive upbringing in otherwise conservative late-Victorian Melbourne, Agnes Goodsir went on to become one of Australia’s foremost bohemians. After studying and exhibiting between London and Paris, Goodsir eventually settled with her muse and lover, Cherry. Come with us to the salons of the Left Bank on the cusp of a new century, where Agnes and Cherry can be found sipping wine with Paris’ famous artistic and lesbian elite.
Josephine Baker broke from a life of poverty in St Louis to take jazz age Paris by storm. Riotous and erotic, Baker was adored for her uninhibited sensuality, unpredictability and wild humour. But she was also one of the most glamorous espionage spies of the French Resistance, and a passionate advocate of the Civil Rights Movement. Join us as we travel from St Louis to Paris, Berlin and Casablanca, chasing one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic women.
The Travelling Sisters
Cult hit stars, The Travelling Sisters, are physical, musical, and character comedy at its finest. From Queensland to France, Edinburgh to Hong Kong and everywhere in-between, their sassy and absurdist wit proves that funny women are a force to be reckoned with. Join us in our very exciting and very first guest episode, as we chat to Lucy, Laura, and Ell about the continuing misconceptions around women in comedy, and how to smack down anyone who tells you that ‘women aren’t funny’.