British, 1958
Lynn Dennison Artwork

The decorative, symbolic and emotional qualities of dress fascinate and inspire Lynn Dennison. Its powers to attract, disguise and defend are explored in her work through paintings based on childhood memories, religious episodes and fairy stories. They feature, for example, the little Mermaid, who longed to discard her scales for human legs to lure her prince. She appears in a series of paintings of women clothed in scales, feathers and fur. The other two are inspired by the tales of Swan Lake and Donkey Skin. In the latter, a beautiful daughter desperately challenges her father, who wishes to make her his incestuous wife to replace her dead mother. She demands that he forfeits the source of his wealth, his enchanted donkey, by making her a dress from the animal’s skin.

The painted -or sometimes pre-printed- paper backing of the paintings often reinforces the mood of the story or subject. Thus the donkey – skin girl, painted into wax like all Lynn Dennison’s work, is seen against a fake leopard-skin background. This material, beloved of contemporary fashion designers, connects the traditional subject matter to a timeless female preoccupation with modern clothing.

In other pictures, which depict general female experiences, Lynn Dennison incorporates her own recollections of dressing up and playing with cutout dolls. A tableau of clothing, from babygro and christening gown through school uniform, wedding and maternity dresses to death-bed nightgown, expresses the rites of passage shared by women everywhere. Another, displaying her daughters’ dressing-up outfits, reflects a universal play activity. Her sources are also drawn from the broader landscape of art history. The Tree of Life, for example, recurs in her work: there is also Cinderella’s tree, planted on her mother’s grave and watered by her tears and, in this version, hung with her ballgown and slippers. Here too, is the Virgin Mary’s tree at Ephesus, where women hoping to conceive hang fragments of their clothes. The Virgin is herself a subject, surrounded by cutout versions of her various cultural representations.

Lynn Dennison’s paintings fuse personal reminiscence and emotion with general feelings and memories. They explore what it means to be female. Everyone can identify with the visual world she creates; a landscape of myth and memory that we all recognise and share. These paintings start form the artist’s own life and draw us all in.