Anne Rothenstein British, b. 1949

Mysterious figures in paired back settings command your attention. Often through a compelling use of eye contact, these curious characters in these simplified settings leave you wondering; Who are they? What are they doing? Why are they there? How do they feel?  While on the one hand the figures in Rothenstein’s paintings feel assured, there is often a simultaneous suggestion of real vulnerability, so creating paintings that are deeply moving. The setting can be somewhat perplexing, by blending recognisable elements with blocked out areas of colour Rothenstein removes the figures from reality. 


Rothenstein is virtually self-taught apart from a brief period at Camberwell art school in the late 1960s. She comes from a family background of artists and creators and transforms a myriad of influences into her unique combination of sophistication with the primitive. Her father was the late Michael Rothenstein, the print-maker, and her mother Duffy Ayres the painter. Her grandfather was William Rothenstein who ran the Royal College of Art and served as an official British war artist. Her uncle John was a Director of the Tate Gallery, and her brother, Julian, is a designer and founder of the Redstone Press. While she is strongly drawn to untrained artists, including Alfred Wallis and Bill Traylor, her influences include Francis Bacon, Mamma Anderson and Jockum Nordström, but her work is unique, very much her own expression of sardonic wit, expression, curiosity and gesture. 


Rothenstein often starts a new piece with an existing photograph or painting as her inspiration and describes her process as “crucial, ritualistic and slightly strange”. There is often uncertainty regarding the gender of her figures, even to the artist, who believes there are instances where this is irrelevant and finds the ambiguity pleasing. Instead, she is happy for the viewer to draw their own conclusions and apply their own ideas to her work. 


Talking about her work she says “It’s like fitting my feet into footprints I have already made while still having no idea where they will lead. Sometimes, magically, things go right, and they go right in a way which cannot be disputed, instinct takes over and the painting happens steadily. This is the exception and undoubtedly the least interesting. Much more exciting, but dreadful and precarious, is when it so nearly goes right. But doesn’t.”