Exhibition Review | The Times
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Sarah Biffin is the subject of a new exhibition Without Hands: The Art of Sarah Biffin at Philip Mould & Company in London. The show’s adviser is the artist Alison Lapper who was born without arms and with shortened legs, a condition known as phocomelia. Lapper raised her body on a pedestal to tremendous effect with Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005-2007) on the Trafalgar Square fourth plinth. On a bright day, her Carrara marble body shone. Do we consider the Venus de Milo any less beautiful because she has no arms?
Talking on the phone from her studio in Worthing, West Sussex, Lapper says: “It sounds like I’m an absolute carbon-copy of her, physically. I could be her reincarnation. The parallels are uncanny.” Physically, perhaps, though not emotionally.
Biffin was a natural entrepreneur. She gave painting lessons, invented a correspondence course (she sent drawings for aspiring artists to copy; they returned their efforts for critique) and placed canny adverts. She learnt to paint on porcelain and ivory. She produced ravishing studies of feathers, all the rage for trimming hats, which might, if you blew on them, lift off the page.
The artist who had charged a modest two francs and 50 cents in her lifetime, today commands high prices. In December 2019, a self-portrait by Biffin was sold at Sotheby’s for £137,500. The estimate had been a paltry £1,200-£1,800, less than the £2,000 it had sold for at a Sotheby’s auction in 1986. Since then, interest in women artists, disabled artists and artists otherwise underrepresented has grown. Biffin’s paintings aren’t exquisite for a disabled artist, they are exquisite full stop. Lapper is awed by her determination. “Everything she ever put her mind to, she did.”
31 October 2022