So, Celia Wembley is with us no more.
As it happens, I have some slight connection with CW, who came late to art, having been previously, well into her fifties, games mistress at my school (before my time of course). It came about in this wise. Our flamboyant art teacher, Tammy Yammamoto, had organised a happening painting: she was to be decanted from a helicopter into the school pool, previously filled with red, white and blue paint, and bordered with huge squares of paper. Alas, Tammy, in her excitement, completely missed the pool, from a great height, with fatal consequences. Bravely, Celia volunteered not to disappoint the large assembled public, and being a bigger girl and a better shot executed faultlessly the vast ‘action painting’ we now know as ‘A Better Splash’. She never looked back.
Few are the areas of contemporary art that do not bear her vigorous impress (few too the artists – her devil-may-care affaire with the much younger Damson Hearse was talk of the town some biennales back) but she will be most fondly remembered as a leading member of the Scribblistes, along with Emily Widdow and, from a later generation, May Ray Too. And here her experience of infant education proved invaluable – her celebrated collages of school exercise books, ‘erased’, as May Ray, the movement’s current theoretician, would say (scribbled on to you and me) with many-coloured crayons, occupy one of the best-loved rooms of Francesco Pinotgrigio’s Palazzo Ciccio collection.
Her recent forays into Preformance Art (as she insisted on calling it) have I admit been less successful, and her insistence, at the age of 83, on running naked for three hours in a hamster wheel mounted on an upturned London bus, provoked the heart attack that took her from us last week. Still, she died as she would have wished, at exercise and on the job. Britain, her old school and the Sanmarco Press are proud of her. We hope to publish her ‘Modern Art Without Tears’ in the not-too-distant future.
Celia Wembley 1928 – 2011.