Meet the artist who creates ‘reimagined historical Welsh figures with a feminist contemporary twist’
Growing up, the password to our family computer was BOTOX.
As a 29-year-old woman, I am painfully aware that my youth is my currency, the constant reminder of a society which still preaches that ‘Men age like wine while women age like milk’.
I can’t pick up a magazine without being reminded that SELF LOVE is key, but also, would I like to consider the latest in anti-ageing technology?
I found it comforting, then, to discover an artist who celebrates older women not as a tokenistic gesture but in genuine acknowledgement of the smart, skilled and beautiful people they still are.
Seren Morgan Jones specialises in “reimagined historical Welsh figures with a feminist contemporary twist”.
She said: “One of the reasons I’ve always painted women is to paint into existence where there is a lack of representation. I’ve been with my husband 13 years, and he’s asked a number of times: ‘do you want to paint me?’
“I’m like, mate, I think you’re the bee’s knees, but I don’t have interest in painting men at all. There’s an element of self-portraiture, to try and work out ideas I have about myself, my femininity, and what it means to be a woman.’
At 36, Seren herself is not immune to societal standards. “Having kids is another level of invisibility, and the toll that’s had on my body is a big adjustment. I’ve got to a place where I can jump on a trampoline without worrying about my pelvic floor – I like to think I’m physically more neutral about myself,” she said.
Instead, she takes solace in her work. “I don’t think you have to achieve to be or feel of value, but for me it was the bulletproof vest that allowed some of these anxieties to bounce off me. I seek comfort in knowing my paintings will outlast me.”
Seren is often drawn towards portraying women in their forties, fifties and sixties.
She said: “My paintings have aged with me; I’ve come to really value images of women my age reflected without this desire to be photoshopped; to see a face that has been allowed to age naturally is quite beautiful.
“I have always sought to reflect (the best I can) the actual variety of what it means to be a woman rather than the very narrow definition set out by popular media.”
She describes a portrait of the Ceridwen, a witch and ‘iconic’ older woman from the Mabinogi: “I knew: this woman has to have wrinkles.”
To create her portraits, Seren says she scours the internet for images and has amassed 25,000 on her phone alone: “It was absolutely disgusting how wrinkles aren’t part of the visual landscape – so I used my mum to pose for it!”
She added “I’ve made sure to include some cleavage; there’s an element of sexuality that’s very self-assured and natural.”
On the subject of cleavage, she said: “I like to have justice for saggy boobs – apparently there is only one kind of boob that women have ever had! So, whenever I get the opportunity I’ll show a boob that’s had gravity.”
Another memorable piece showcases a middle-aged Asian woman.
“In the west there’s a real fetishization of Asian women. I wanted to paint a sexy east Asian woman who’s bigger and also a bit older. If there’s nakedness or something more revealing, I like to paint in a way which shows the person is totally comfortable with what they’re showing,” she said.
“There’s something quite confronting about the fact there’s cellulite while she’s crossing legs, but there’s a power to the fact she’s not bothered by it at all.”
She added: “I also wanted to show a fatter woman; we’re all swimming in these shitty waters and I’m prone to the same ageism, fatphobia and racism as the next person. I’m trying to be as kind and respectful to the person as possible while interrogating my prejudices.”
As a member of the Netflix generation, perhaps the most galling aspect of ageing is how rarely I see older women staring back at me.
In Laura Bates’ excellent Everyday Sexism, she attempts to describe the impressions of aliens visiting planet Earth: “If nothing else, you’d come away with the certain understanding that there are very few circumstances in which it is acceptable to see an older woman on the silver screen.”
According to the Acting Your Age campaign, only 9% of UK audiences can recognise 15 or more women over the age of 45 on their screens, compared to 48% of audiences able to easily identify more than 15 men of that age.
In Alexander, Angelina Jolie plays mother to Colin Farrell – leading us to believe she could have given birth aged just one – while female presenters are expected to remain (or at least look) forever youthful as their male counterparts gray and sag.
As Seren said: “Ageing is an absolute bloody honour. I look forward to when I’m 50, 60+ and have the excellent resource that is my own face!”
As women continue to campaign against injustice in every area of their lives, from sex abuse to the gender pay gap, on International Women’s Day let’s not forget to celebrate those older who’ve already given us so much and refuse to shrink into the shadows.
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