Overlooked No More: Pauline Boty, Rebellious Pop Artist

Overlooked No More: Pauline Boty, Rebellious Pop Artist

Boty’s work “5-4-3-2-1,” named for the theme song to the British pop-music television show “Ready Steady Go!”, includes the suggestively truncated bit of text “Oh, for a fu …” alongside her signature motif of a blossoming rose and an ecstatic image of the show’s host, Cathy McGowan.

As a Pop artist who was also an actress and broadcast journalist, Boty personified the freewheeling cultural scene known as Swinging London. She interviewed the Beatles on BBC radio, danced on “Ready Steady Go!” and appeared in major films like “Alfie” (1966), starring Michael Caine as a womanizer who comes to see the error of his ways.

Her art and acting careers merged in “Pop Goes the Easel,” an auteurish 1962 BBC documentary by Ken Russell in which Boty is the lone woman in a group of four up-and-coming Pop Art painters. (The others were Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, and Peter Phillips.) The film presents her as one of the boys, shopping for comic books and attending a wrestling match, but it also plays up her glamour: She is shown teasing her hair into a wild bouffant and later shimmying in a fur stole at a raucous studio party.

“Pop Goes the Easel” defined Boty’s early career, for better and for worse, presenting a charismatic it-girl image of the artist that led directly to gallery exhibitions and acting roles. It also figured in her rediscovery by, among others, the Sussex University art historian David Alan Mellor, who said he was captivated by the film as a teenager. He included her artwork in an influential 1993 survey of 1960s London art at the Barbican Art Gallery; decades later he located a stash of Boty’s paintings in a barn on the Kent farm of one of her brothers.

Pauline Veronica Boty was born on March 6, 1938, in the South London suburb of Carshalton, the only girl of four children of Albert and Veronica Boty. Her father was an accountant and her mother a homemaker. Her mother was also a frustrated artist whose own parents had not allowed her to attend art school and who encouraged Boty in her art career even as the rest of the family disapproved.

At 16, Boty won a scholarship to the Wimbledon College of Art, where her classmates nicknamed her the “Wimbledon Bardot,” noting her resemblance to the screen siren Brigitte Bardot.

She then studied at the Royal College of Art, where she befriended Blake and Boshier and began experimenting with collage — a method that led her to the “collage painting” style of her best-known works, in which repainted newspaper and magazine clippings are set off by colorful abstract backgrounds.

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