She was an icon of the early-to-mid 1960s, a noted British pop artist, a dancer on teen TV shows, a poet, an actress on mainstream TV, a star of the BBC’s Pop Goes The Easel documentary and a beauty of the day.
Yet despite all that and perhaps because of her early death, Pauline Boty is still a fairly unknown quantity. Which is why Pauline Boty: The Only Blonde In The World by Sue Watling and David Alan Mellor is such an important book and one that’s well worth seeking out.
Pauline Boty was born in south London in 1938 and after showing promise as an artist, she won a scholarship to Wimbledon Art School, where her looks got her the nickname ‘The Wimbledon Bardot’. Working both in stained glass and on canvas, she quickly gained a reputation, featuring in the 1957 Young Contemporaries exhibition alongside Robyn Denny Richard Smith and Bridget Riley and moving to the Royal College of Art, where she mixed with David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips and Peter Blake. Indeed, if you saw some of Boty’s work from the early 60s, you’ll probably think it was a Blake piece, such is the similarity of both style and influence.
Mainstream attention soon followed, in 1961 with the Blake, Boty, Porter Reeve show (one of the first British pop art shows), then with the Ken Russell Pop Goes The Easel BBC show alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Philips (recently repeated on BBC4). Not long after she started working as an actress in BBC dramas. Nothing, if not versatile.
But art was still the priority, not least featuring the hip and cool of the day in both collage and as paintings. 5-4-3-2-1 was a tribute to Ready Steady Go for example, while With Love To Jean Paul Belmondo was a another tribute, this time to the iconic face of the French new wave, a subject dear to her heart. There was also political art too, particularly with reference to the Cuban revolution.
The pattern continued over the next couple of years, with some radio work and a marriage (after a 10-day romance) thrown into the mix, before Boty became pregnant in 1965. Sadly, a lump was also discovered and not long after her daughter was born, Boty died, aged just 28, in 1966.
Unlike many icons of the era, Boty’s early death didn’t result in a growing reputation over the following decades. On the contrary, she’s still a largely forgotten name from the 1960s. However, during the last 10 to 15 years, pop art exhibitions have started to feature her work more and this book was actually produced to coincide with a 1998 exhibition of the same name based solely on Pauline Boty.
Sadly, it’s a fairly sparse book, a result of so little work being available I suspect. Although the book does feature some fine imagery of Boty’s best-known pieces, some in full colour and including her now-iconic pieces like the Belmondo, a tribute to Monica Vitti, her last work (‘Bum’) and both of her ‘Man’s World’ collages. Sadly, some of the work has actually been ‘lost’ and due to her fairly short career, there isn’t a great deal of Boty to show either. Good luck finding those early BBC acting roles too, most have been lost in the great archive clearout.
Yet despite that, this 47-page book is still worth seeking out. It features both a breakdown of her life and a critique of her art by the respective authors, lots of images, a chronology of her life, a listing of all exhibitions and a reference guide to known works.
Some great images of Pauline Boty can also be found here.
Also, see below for the classic Ken Russell-directed BBC Monitor pop art documentary Pop Goes The Easel, which features Pauline Boty, as well as Peter Blake and other British pop artists of the day.