Katy Hessel

Founder of The Great Women Artists

Tell us about yourself and The Great Women Artists?

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My name's Katy, I’m 24 years old and work in the marketing department at Victoria Miro, London. I run an Instagram account called @thegreatwomenartists, which celebrates female artists on a daily basis, ranging from young grads to Old Masters. The Great Women Artists has since allowed me to curate an exhibition, which showcased fifteen artists who used Instagram as a platform to forge their career, write for some pretty cool publications and give talks.

How did the idea start for The Great Women Artists?

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I had just finished university, and written my dissertation about Alice Neel (my favourite artist ever). Not only was Neel a portraitist stuck in the middle of Abstract-Expressionist New York, but she was also a woman in a man’s profession. Studying her career really made me think about the underrepresentation of women artists. Soon after graduating I visited a major art fair where I didn’t see a single female artist which ultimately fuelled my desire to create a destination where people could learn about women artists in an accessible and fun way. 

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Who inspires you?

I could list about a hundred writers, podcasters, curators and artists. Kimberly Drew is up there for breaking down barriers and genuinely shaping the future of art. Tate giants Maria Balshaw and Frances Morris, and of course Linda Nochlin, the late trailblazing feminist art historian who penned the essay, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? I’m also influenced by those around me - friends who work in different fields like medicine and architecture who inspire different perspectives on the world.

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What does art mean to you?

Art to me is a visual reflection of the culture we live in today. It’s meant to inspire, educate and make people think. Art should be inclusive and there for everyone to enjoy, and should help people to see the world a little bit differently, hence my project to promote the underrepresented female artists, as people’s perception of the world through art should come from all genders and backgrounds!!

What is the last exhibition you went to?

Yesterday I checked out Juno Calypso’s immersive installation called The Salon. I am an avid follower of Juno’s photography which often explores her alter ego Joyce, a woman obsessed with consumerism and beauty. This exhibition brings her slightly sinister photographs to life with a salon full of imaginary clients with all sorts of bizarre face masks. It’s brilliant as you feel as though you are trapped in her mind where the norm is all types of crazy surgical beauty regimes.

What else do you collect?

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Prints, postcards, books, posters, any affordable ceramics I can get my hands on. Ceramics are my favourite medium at the moment and I went to a great all-female ceramic show at roaming projects called If You Can’t Stand The Heat. I bought three pots that were made as a collaboration between Lindsey Mendick, Anousha Payne, Paloma Proudfoot and Jessie Mackinson. I love them!


If you could own any work of art in the world what would it be? 

An Alice Neel or a Toyin Ojih Odutola, they are both my favourite artists. Being able to own one and look at it every day would be the coolest thing ever. 

What’s the most precious item that you own and why?

When I curated my exhibition, some of the artists gave me a piece of their work as a thank you present. They mean loads to me as it reminds me of a really special show we all put on together. I have works by Manjit Thapp, Alice Aedy, Alice Skinner and Venetia Berry.

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What is your favourite thing to do on a weekend?

Aside from hanging out with my friends and family, I try and go to as many exhibitions as possible. I love studio visits and often stay for hours chatting (and fan-girling) artists whose work I find very interesting. I must’ve visited at least one artist a week last year, and I’ve got so many I still need to see! 

What is the last book you read? 

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I have recently finished Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City about Hopper, Warhol and David Wojnarowicz. But I’ve also just read 100 Nasty Women which made me cry of laughter on the tube once. It’s so good and funny and about one hundred legendary historical women.  

What should we be looking out for in 2018?

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Whilst I’m excited for the Frida Kahlo at V&A, Anni Albers at Tate Modern and Lisa Brice at Tate Britain (such a fan), I’m going to try and venture out of London to see more exhibitions. The brilliant exhibition North: Fashioning Identity got me really inspired to check out galleries up in the North and my god is there a good programme: Chantal Joffe at the Lowry, Francesca Woodman (paired with Egon Schiele) at Tate Liverpool and a visit to the Hepworth Wakefield. I also want to head to Tate St Ives to check out their all-female exhibition about Virginia Woolf. Whilst I’m there I want to check out Barbara Hepworth and the great Abstract painter Sandra Blow’s former studio and home. I’m also heading to NYC later this month (too many shows to list) but I’m also going to go to Washington to finally visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts! 

What’s next for the Great Women Artists?

More writing, more talks, more exhibitions (hopefully outside of the UK!) and more visiting women artists. I would really like to start a podcast too. In September, I will be working with Palazzo Monti in Italy sending artists out to take part in their amazing artist residency. 

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All photos by Rory James


Alexa Coe’s Lovers 5. I am amazed at how she applies charcoal to paper, the lines just work immediately in the most simple but joyful and sensuous form.

Lady Skollie’s We Slayed the Woman. I’ve loved her work ever since she created that incredible mural at Tyburn Gallery!

Jessie Mackinson’s Blue Blush Me watercolour. I love the way she fuses art history with the modern. Her works are so beautiful.

Rose Electra Harris, Fee Greening and Venetia Berry were all in an exhibition I curated back in November. I already have an original by Venetia Berry, which I love, so I would really like to have some work by Fee and Rose. Probably a K from Fee and Rose’s Pink Palm in my Bathroom.