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The Maypole by Nicola Hepworth
Maypole Dancers by Nicola Hepworth, 40 x 60 cm, 2022
Moonlit Maypole Dance, Oil on Canvas, 102 x 80cm, 2022

In 2022 I started exploring maypoles and maypole dancing imagery  in my work. This is linked to my childhood as it was a tradition in Ealing, on the outskirts of London, where I grew up and I loved the whole event, the practising and the performing. 

These paintings utilise the motif of the maypole in various utopic and dystopic ways. Mayday celebrations are often considered part of English heritage, although they have a history in many parts of Europe and the World. Although I have happy memories of the dances, there can be something unsettling about the imagery too. During the recent Platinum Jubillee there was a resurgence of such traditional dances and nostalgic activities in Britain, which prompted me to research the history and explore the imagery further.


 I discovered that it was the Victorian writer and artist John Ruskin  who revived the tradition of Maypole dancing in England in the late 19th Century, in a women’s teaching college.This led me to think about patriarchal manipulation and the construction of gender roles. The imagery  associated with maypole dancing; the tropes of white dress, floral headdress and ribbons, are part of the so - called ideal feminine identity that were, and still are, offered to children. I wanted to explore my own relationship with this history, which is as complex and intertwined as a woven maypole.


As I was researching and painting the lone maypole dancer, based on photographs from an early 20th C book on maypole dancing ( on the table), Russia’s invasion on Ukraine was taking place. The idea of the circular dance has precedents in art, representing the cycle of life and death, and fairground imagery has been used to symbolise the repetitive, foolish, tragedy of war. The image of the dancer seemed to take on new metaphorical associations, suggesting the tension before the first step of a more dangerous dance. 

Mayday by Nicola Hepworth, oil on board, 20 x 30cm, 2022
Maypole Topper, Oil on Canvas, 40 x40 cm, 2022
Maypole Topper 2, Oil on canvas,40 x 60 cm, 2022
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