The Society of Women Artists’ 153rd Annual Exhibition opens at The Mall Galleries on 26 June – and North Londoner Carol Tarn in particular has caught our eye

There is always so much to enjoy at The Society of Women Artists’ Annual Exhibition, but the world of showbiz has caught our attention in the form of Carol Tarn’s work. Carol is a North London-based portrait artist, working in oil with a distinctive painterly, yet realistic style and an exceptional appreciation of colour and light. From celebrities to private commissions, her paintings go beyond the likeness to capture the essence of her subjects, their fearless gaze drawing the viewer in – and often incorporate personal objects, references and details, some requested by the sitter, creating a collage of thoughts, a narrative that reveals the sitter’s very self.

She has taken this interest in the layers of a personality to its zenith in her growing series of theatrical portraits, capturing actors in their dressing rooms at the moment of transition from self to character, uniquely revealing actor, character and production in one painting. The 12-strong series includes Celia Imrie as Dotty in Noises Off, Linda Marlowe as the titular Mother Adam, Neil Bromley and Simon Lloyd as Laurel and Hardy, Helen Lindsay as Countess Mortimer in the Almeida Theatre’s production of Waste, and a large portrait of Greta Scacchi as Bette Davis / Baby Jane in the 2011 Arts Theatre production of Bette and Joan.

It is this fabulous painting, rich with detail and peppered with intriguing references to the production and to Scacchi herself that has been prestigiously selected for inclusion in The Society of Women Artists’ Annual Exhibition. ‘I painted the portrait after spending time with Greta in her dressing room,’ Carol explains. ‘It shows her in full theatrical make-up and wig along with some of the reference material she was using to create the character, a programme from the production pinned to the mirror and a copy of a book by Michael Blakemore, who had directed her in Uncle Vanya and which she asked me to include. She wanted me to paint her in full make-up, which I thought was very brave.

‘To paint Greta Scacchi as Bette Davis as Baby Jane… what a challenge to paint three people in one,’ she continues. ‘Greta caught Bette Davis wonderfully, right down to her voice, pronunciation and mannerisms. I hope to have similiarly succeeded in capturing such an iconic actress.’ The result is as much a study of the absorbing artistry of character acting as a powerful likeness of a great actor at work. A privileged glimpse into a private moment, an intense process and a personal space.

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