God knows I loves me some Nina Hamnett. But like her fellow Welsh-born artist and bohemian trailblazer Augustus John, she has rarely been the subject of the kind of serious documentary appraisal accorded many of her illustrious contemporaries. And so I was particularly pleased to stumble across this recently. Entitled Fast and Furious, it’s a short film portrait from 1989 which depicts the struggle between art and life which characterized much of Hamnett’s existence. It was a contest, in fact, which was only resolved by her definitive renunciation of both, when she committed suicide in 1956.
The overall impression from this film is of a woefully undervalued artistic legacy. This was partly due to Hamnett’s chaotic living conditions (although we learn that she was a surprisingly assiduous archivist, early on at least) but also attributable to a depressingly familiar marginalisation of 20th century female artists. While Hamnett’s two volumes of titillating, name-dropping memoirs were snapped up by a public eager for vicarious bohemian kicks, there has never been a monograph of her work.
In its 26 minutes Fast and Furious inevitably leaves some questions unanswered, perhaps none more tantalising than this: what the hell did James Joyce and Rudolf Valentino talk about when Hamnett introduced them to each other?