Here come the girls: a woman lying in a moonlit room, dreaming of her lover far away. Three women picking fruit in a harvest, resembling nymphs in a classical painting. Four women side by side in a powder room, checking their make-up and exchanging gossip.
Artist Rachel Deacon has made a career out of painting strong, beautiful women and is currently exhibiting a collection of her work at Catto Gallery in Hampstead, alongside another female artist whose work predominantly depicts women, Pam Hawkes.
“I've always drawn women,” Rachel says, “ever since I was a little girl. I find the female form more aesthetically pleasing than the male – the lines, the contours, the shapes, they can lead to quite beautiful compositions.”
Rachel's is a very singular style and the composition of her pieces echoes that of the classical masters. “Archetypal, classical women being painted by male painters – I like the idea of revisiting that but from a woman's point of view,” she says.
The women in her pictures represent women that she knows, and at the same time all women. “They're amazing - what we achieve in our lives, how multifaceted we all are. There's no one woman being just one thing. We're lots of different people within ourselves.”
There's a strong narrative focus to her work: each painting resembles a still from a film. “I tend to work from the written word,” she explains, “poetry and short stories. Sometimes I'll spend a whole morning looking through poetry books to find a seed. Or I'll be reading a novel and I'll go, 'I know what that looks like!' Then I'll start making drawings and keep making them until it represents what I see in my head.”
Her painting Turning from the Moon was inspired by Carol Ann Duffy's poem Words, Wide Night, and Before the Wedding by Dorothy Parker's Unfortunate Coincidence.
“I love it,” she says of her work. “It's thrilling, it's lovely to do this as a job. I can't see me ever not doing it – I can't do anything else!”
An exhibition of works by Rachel Deacon and Pam Hawkes will be at Catto Gallery, Heath Street, Hampstead until February 22. Details: 020 7435 6660, www.cattogallery.co.uk