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Prof Rebecca Fortnum - Professor of Fine Art

Professor Rebecca Fortnum

Professor of Fine Art and Director of Graduate Studies (Fine Art).


My research falls into three related areas; a visual art practice, documenting fine artists’ processes and fine art pedagogic research.

My research project, Visual Intelligences at Lancaster University led me to work with artists, finding creative ways to document their making processes and curate symposia. Subsequently I was appointed as international lead artist for TRADE in Ireland and more recently I have begun to write on the role of 'not knowing' within the creative process.  I have a long held interest in contemporary art practices by women and my book, Contemporary British Women Artists, in their own words, was published in 2007 developed my interest in the artist’s interview.  This research has led to a book, On Not Knowing; how artists think published by Black Dog in 2013 which I have co-edited (with Lizzie Fisher) and written an essay for titled, Creative Accounting, ‘not knowing’ in talking and making.

My art practice currently uses text and portraiture to reflect on issues of empathy and communication and, from 2011- 2012, I curated two exhibitions at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood. This research examined how contemporary arts practitioners could develop approaches to the representations of children’s imaginations for a specific audience of children and parents as well as an audience interested in visual arts and childhood. 

In 2011 I was awarded an OPAK Research grant from the K U Leuven federation of Flemish Universities to develop the project Drawing – in and outside - Writing.  With artists Kelly Chorpening, Peter Morrens and Ans Nys I began to make work with the intention of investigating the relationship between writing and drawing. Individually and together we asked if writing could ever become drawing and whether drawing might have a syntax or be read? Through research methods that included exhibitions and residencies we explored the ways in which thinking and writing can become fused in the creative act of drawing.  An artists’ book was published by RGAP (UK) as well  a cahier was published by OPAK (Be) an a large group exhibition, that included solo presentations and curated artists was held at Vorrkamer, Lier in 2012..

In 2013 I staged Self Contained, an exhibition of new work at the Freud Museum, London supported by an Arts Council of England Individual Artists Award. For this exhibition Dream (an extensive series of small-scale drawings where the subjects’ eyes are closed that explore the power of the gaze and the ethics of looking) expanded to include silverpoint works. These and other silverpoint were sited in the Anna Freud Room both on the wall and as objects, bringing the work to a new audience and connecting with Anna Freud’s pioneering work in understanding child development. The exhibition room housed two other series of work.  Wide Shut is a series of large double portraits of young girls, where one in each pair has open eyes.  Self Contain is a series of seven letterpress works that present excerpts of texts from Turn of the Screw by Henry James, thought to be inspired by a Freud case study.  The extracts are printed by hand, making the words materially present. They are taken from the governess' monologue and show her use of self-narration to form her own identity.

A book of the same title was published by RGAP  (& distributed by Cornerhouse) in April and included essays about the work by Dr Graham Music, a child psychotherapist, the artist Louisa Minkin and the writer and critic Maria Walsh, as well as a short essay by Fortnum.

Rebecca Fortnum is a member of the Art Practice as Investigation Research Cluster.

PhD supervisions:

I have supervised the following to completion:

* Self/Painting Practice/Social Practice, Barbara Howey, Norwich School of Art, 2001

* Drawing/Writing (an)auto/biography uncovering and covering women’s space with nushu women’s script, Yuen-yi Lo, Wimbledon School of Art, 2005

* Dust: Exploring surface, material and time within the photographic print, Johanna Love, Chelsea College, 2012

* Africana unmasked: fugitive signs of Africana in Tate’s British collection,  Kimathi Donkor, Chelsea College of Art, 2015

* In-between Marks and Surfaces: Indiscernibility, Subjectivity & Otherness, Marina Kassianadou, Chelsea College of Art, 2015

I am currently supervising the following:

* The art school of the ghetto – community-based practice as critical pedagogy, Ana Laura de Lopez Torres, Chelsea College of Art

* Aesthetics of Empathy: Affective Affinities and Gothicness in Contemporary sculpture, Murray Anderson, Middlesex University

* Institution Building as a Curatorial Act, Valerio del Baglivio, Middlesex University

* Grapheme Syneasethsia: an investigation through Fine Art Textiles, Gwen Fereday, Middlesex University

* The Pragmatics of Attachment and Detachment: the productive indeterminacy of textile, Maxine Bristow, Norwich University College of the Arts

* Machines that make art: An exploration of the practice and history of the removal of the artist’s expressionist touch through the use of automatic or mechanical modes of production, Natasha Kidd, Oxford University


Rebecca Fortnumís research in the University Repository

Drawing - in and outside - writing

Morrens, Peter and Chorpening, Kelly and Nys, Ans and Fortnum, Rebecca (2012) Drawing - in and outside - writing. RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications) in collaboration with Sint-L...

On not knowing: how artists think

Fortnum, Rebecca (2009) On not knowing: how artists think. Kettle's Yard. ...

Behind the eyes; making pictures

Adams, Lindsey and Fortnum, Rebecca and Harland, Beth and Hulson, Marc and Love, Johanna (2013) Behind the eyes; making pictures. [Show/Exhibition] ...

The imagination of children

Fortnum, Rebecca (2011) The imagination of children. [Show/Exhibition] ...

Absurd impositions

Fortnum, Rebecca (2011) Absurd impositions. [Show/Exhibition] ...

Self contained

Fortnum, Rebecca (2013) Self contained. [Show/Exhibition] ...