watching the watchers

2015 03 14 birds (2)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (8)

I was rooted staring at a virtual vertical rectangle into which the watchers stepped, stopped, turned and stood, looking at the heaving seas, smoke and broken boats that make up Manet’s canvas depicting the sinking of a famed confederate raider off the French coast.  The constantly shifting traffic part obscuring the painting – individuals staring, pairs turning to each other to comment, a couple meeting there and nestling into each other – was accompanied by the soft rhythm of quiet foot steps and low voices from the surrounding gallery.  I wanted to film this, but each time I took out my phone, the guard loomed threateningly.

2015 03 13 watching the watchers (5)  2015 03 14 birds (3)

I migrated from the Inventing Impressionism exhibition to another show, the Rubens legacy at the Royal Academy.  Here I found a spot to sit facing a huge fantastical violent canvas, where I could draw people as they were captured to gape at the piece.

2015 03 13 watching the watchers (4)   2015 03 14 birds (4)

Birds, as subjects for drawing, are themselves continually watching, alert for threats and opportunities.  Great created grebes, seemingly asleep with their heads tucked well back near the middle of their bodies, behind the broad prow formed by their white necks, in fact are moving purposefully, staying together as a pair, slowly rotating on the water.

2015 03 14 birds (5)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (3)2015 03 13 watching the watchers (2)

2015 03 14 birds (6)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (1)

2015 03 14 birds (1)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (6)

conte crayon

20150308 conte crayon   20150318 conte crayon (2)

20150318 conte crayon (6)

The rocks mark, in our distant past, when multicellular organisms evolved guts and first crapped on the sea bed.  It was a critical step, that we might no longer be sessile but could instead migrate, carrying within us the bacteria, the compost, that enables us to digest food. Each of us is an ecosystem comprising many millions of organisms in shifting relationships.  The technology now exists to profile the diversity of organisms within us and understand their relationship to health.  There are many conditions in which illness is caused through inflammation.  What part does our individual internal ecological diversity play in that, I wonder?

I spend so much of my free time trying to wrap my head round these complex biological interactions that I am culturally and artistically ignorant.  The exhibition “Rubens and his legacy” at the Royal Academy was for me a trove of work I did not know.  Here are two simple memories from that show.  First, there were connections shown between landscapes ranging from Rubens through to Gainsborough and Constable.  This visual impact was of deep rich toiling red shadows in the foreground and cool blue and green distances in the left upper panel like a view into an ethereal other land.  The second memory was the masterly, deceptively simple, descriptions of the human form in red black and white chalks.

My humble sketches above were simple landscapes in conte crayon, done on site in woodland and, as evening fell, from a footbridge over a small stream on my cycle route.  I have an idea to work over the woodland scene in thin acrylic glazes.  The second picture is much smaller, done on a scrap of tinted paper lodged in my sketchbook.  I worked further on this in crayon on my return home, to better capture the forms and reflections.