Format Hardcover
Publication Date 01/02/24
ISBN 9781639365432
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 320

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The Other Side

A Story of Women in Art and the Spirit World

Jennifer Higgie

The first major work of art history to focus on women artists and their engagement with the spirit world, by the author of The Mirror and the Palette.

It's not so long ago that a woman's expressed interest in other realms would have ruined her reputation, or even killed her. And yet spiritualism, in various incarnations, has influenced numerous men—including lauded modernist artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich and Paul Klee—without repercussion. The fact that so many radical female artists of their generation—and earlier—also drank deeply from the same spiritual well has been sorely neglected for too long.

In The Other Side, we explore the lives and work of a group of extraordinary women, from the twelfth-century mystic, composer, and artist Hildegard of Bingen to the nineteenth-century English spiritualist Georgiana Houghton, whose paintings swirl like a cosmic Jackson Pollock; the early twentieth-century Swedish artist, Hilma af Klint, who painted with the help of her spirit guides and whose recent exhibition at New York's Guggenheim broke all attendance records to the 'Desert Transcendentalist', Agnes Pelton, who painted her visions beneath the vast skies of California. We also learn about the Swiss healer, Emma Kunz, who used geometric drawings to treat her patients and the British surrealist and occultist, Ithell Colquhoun, whose estate of more than 5,000 works recently entered the Tate gallery collection. While the individual work of these artists is unique, the women loosely shared the same goal: to communicate with, and learn from, other dimensions.

Weaving in and out of these myriad lives while sharing her own memories of otherworldly experiences, Jennifer Higgie discusses the solace of ritual, the gender exclusions of art history, the contemporary relevance of myth, the boom in alternative ways of understanding the world and the impact of spiritualism on feminism and contemporary art. A radical reappraisal of a marginalized group of artists, The Other Side is an intoxicating blend of memoir, biography, and art history.

Jennifer Higgie has a B.A. in Fine Art from the Canberra School of Art, and a MA from Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne; her paintings are in various public and private collections in Australia. Previously the editor of frieze magazine, she is now frieze editor-at-large and the presenter of Bow Down, a podcast about women in art history. 

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Endorsements & Reviews

"In her new book The Other Side, Jennifer Higgie pays tribute to celebrated and lesser-known women artists whose work intersected with the occult. The book lands at an important time in the evolving history of spirituality and art. The book’s strength is in naming, examining, and historicizing what is so often under-discussed in art, especially art by women. Those transcendental experiences we can have with powerful works of art are by design." Hyperallergic
"The strength of Higgie’s book is that it is not merely another treatise on the wrongs suffered by women artists throughout history. This tale is about something much larger than grievance. There is a vein of optimism and wonder running through the text. The women whom Higgie profiles created, and they did so despite cultural scorn. No doubt Higgie’s exploits will resonate with many readers." Mary Gabriel, The New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating and heretical to the art historical canon, this title gives readers the opportunity to learn about the complex history of the spiritual in art and encourages them to let their imaginations roam." Library Journal
"A globetrotting survey of the role women and spiritualism have played in modern art. Higgie eschews definitive conclusions about the connections among spiritualism, women artists, and modern art, but she paints a variety of compelling portraits. An illuminating commentary on much more than art, demonstrating how new ideas and cultural shifts take hold." Kirkus Reviews
"[Higgie's] engaging, disarming narrative voice makes this a crucial read and a useful starting point to learn more about the women artists’ incalculable spiritual range." Hyperallergic
"In effervescent and atmospheric prose, Jennifer Higgie explores some of history's most innovative artists and their spiritual investigations into this realm and the next. I was entranced from start to finish, as she takes us on both a personal and artistic journey across time and across the globe. The Other Side is an exhilarating read." Katy Hessel, author of The Story of Art Without Men 
"An entrancing look at formerly neglected artists who navigated thresholds between this world and the next, and a crucial exploration of realms formerly dismissed. Elegantly expanded my thinking on the eternal mystery of where art comes from." Jennifer Lucy Allan, author of The Foghorn's Lament
"Jennifer Higgie is the most splendid of guides on this enthralling journey of a book. With tremendous intelligence, sensitivity and a receptivity nearly equal to that of her subjects, she leads us through a gallery of remarkable women artists whose dialogue with other realms became the font of their creativity as well as a sanctuary. Excellent, inspiring and transformative." Chloe Aridjis, author of Sea Monsters
"Wonderful. Higgie guides us through overlooked stories from the history of art and reveals the insights into the nature of imagination which reside there. Illuminating in every sense of the word." John Higgs, author of William Blake vs. the World
"The Other Side lit up my brain. A radical, fascinating exploration of art and the otherworldly, Higgie is an expert and erudite guide in this brilliant reclamation of female artists." Sinead Gleeson, author of Constellations