Three colours

Claudette Johnson‘s larger than life self-portrait, Trilogy part III, Red, holds us in her gaze.  In front is Germaine Richier‘s La Feuille, a bronze figure stripped of markers of femininity, imprinted with debris from the forest floor, decayed, impoverished and dehumanised.  This was a witness to two devastating world wars in the artist’s lifetime.  Painted three decades later, Johnson’s images reclaim visibility and control for black women.

Richier died the year Johnson was born.  Johnson is about my age so we have seen the same world through different eyes.  Now, the 1980s, when she painted this, feels like a different, historical, world.  “Lest we forget” is a much used phrase.  We must remember the battles of the 80s as much as the previous wars. Last night I watched the film Pride with my 11 year old daughter.  In response to detailed questioning, I had to explain what I know of the Labour Movement,  the Miners’ Strike, how the hardship of that industrial conflict disrupted working class social norms and changed womens’ roles, the nature of HIV and AIDS, the death of activist Mark Ashton aged just 26, civil rights and the nature of solidarity across boundaries that has transformed our society.

I drew without structure, starting with the bronze.  I find I have exaggerated the broad shoulders of Johnson’s image, emphasising their power.  As I drew, the museum guide planted himself in my line of view to explain to a tour an art critic’s view on interpreting feminist art.  He made it explicitly clear to me who he felt controlled the space.  This was likely just accidental snobbery and rudeness, but it felt like found performance art.

The “Women Power Protest” exhibition is in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until March.  It celebrates 100 years of universal suffrage and, importantly for the future, showcases what should be unremarkable, that BMAG’s acquisitions from female artists balance or exceed those from men.  Dignity, Hope, Activism are the exhibition’s universal themes, building on the three colours of the suffragettes’ banner.

piece of sky

Here are two ten minute sketches.  The first was made from a road by a marshy area as darkness fell, with varied marks resulting from each implement in turn running out of ink as I drew.  I coloured it later with light conte crayon marks, rubbed in and lifted.  The second was done waiting for a train,  with a couple of strokes of colour overdrawn with soft graphite.

I discovered an extensive cemetery near the station.  It holds a large arena type area with what I guess must be mausoleums built into its walls – that is for a drawing another time.  Here is a simple pencil sketch with pen picking out some details.


Birmingham Jazz put on live gigs Friday nights.  Here are Greg Abate– Sax; Elliott Sansom– Piano; Ben Muirhead– Bass and (not shown because I was sitting behind a pillar) Nathan England-Jones– Drums.

The sketches are done small in a pocket book, soft pencil on rough paper, some of them inked over at the time or a day or so later.

I only started drawing in the final few tracks, letting the music guide the pencil.  What i wish I had captured is the way the pianist and bassist grinned at each other at the feats they were performing.

This was athletic music, rhythmic, dexterous, controlled, coordinated and, above all, fast jamming.  Abate has clearly been around, but these other guys, the Elliott Samson Trio, are young, barely out of college.