Deconstruction

In the 1927 film Metropolis, Maria captivates the workers through libidinous behaviour and leads them in a destructive orgy until, fearing for their families, they turn against her. Bound and burning, unrepentant, she is revealed to be a robot, a doll, a false prophet manipulated by the ruling class. The true Maria defends her honour on the cathedral roof until rescued by the hero.

This corny myth could be used to signify the whole history of the 20th century and from any perspective.

My aim was to deconstruct the lino printmaking process to reflect the destruction of the robot. I experimented with sprinkling the block with a little finely crushed salt but this near completely prevented transfer of ink to the paper. I also worked into the paper with white conte crayon, which works well as a resist with watercolour, but this failed to inhibit printing of the water-based, but much thicker, printing pigment. So I resorted to cutting back into the lino, extensively removing the image, then rebuilding it in gorilla glue. Activated with water, this adhesive froths and expands before drying. I sliced it level with the lino leaving a minutely cratered printing surface. I cut back into this to restore some of the lines. I varied the inking and pressure to get different effects.

pockets and a hat

The twitter hashtag #WOMENSART brought to my attention the poem Dangerous Coats by Sharon Owens linked to a surveillance photograph of suffragette Olive Beamish from 1914. In this linocut I don’t capture her facial likeness but I have explored textures of the coat with large pockets.

Here are a range of sketches I undertook.

From Wikipedia I learned of the Cat and Mouse Act passed by the Liberal government, legislation designed to thwart the suffragettes on hunger strike in prison.

In her poem Sharon Owens equates “sedition”, at that time, with commonsense, fairness, kindness, equality. Faced with a law-breaking, lying, callous, killing government, we may all need pockets to promote these values.

at a distance

In this linocut, based on a still from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, the heroine Maria is bringing children to witness the gardens of the rich. Maria is adored by the oppressed workers. The hero, in pursuit of love for Maria, descends into the hell inhabited by the workers and, though love, becomes the mediator between the propertied and the proletariat.

Fritz Lang’s film was criticised at the time for its naivety. Cutting the block, I listened to the audio version of China Mielville’s October, a fast paced narrative of the two revolutions, a decade before the film, that first forced the abdication of Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romonav, the “bovine” Emperor of All Russia, and then replaced the provisional government with that of the Bolsheviks. Through this, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, “Lenin”, having returned to Petrograd to acclaim, is now in hiding in Finland while the counter-revolutionary plot by General Kornilov is foiled by the city’s workers and soldiers. Lenin guides the revolution, demanding rule by the soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ committees), an end to economic injustice and purity of purpose. He rails that the Bolsheviks must support a bourgeoise revolution as a pre-condition to a proletarian one, but not collaborate with that bourgeoise government. He tacks and shifts his ground, fine tuning his writings in response to events, ever sensitive to the subtle twists in political mood, seeking the precise historical moment when to act decisively for a workers’ state. But in exile, he receives news late, writes always behind the times and his tardy essays are used selectively by others to justify their contrary actions. I am minded of that other spiritual guide to a revolution that eventually acquired an empire, Paul, on the road and in exile, working on hearsay and old news, writing letters to admonish his first century adherents and converts.

Dystop

Along with many others, I oppose the destruction of infrastructure and targeted killing of civilians in Gaza and want political action towards a free Palestine by the UK. Britain is a nation with influence, and both historical and current responsibility.

One argument, lost in the others, is that the highly visible selective murder of a trapped people is a shop window, watched with great interest by other governments. What one democracy does with impunity, so might others. Not just solidarity should motivate us, but self-interest.

My son’s theme for his final GCSE art exam was “light and dark”. From there one can extrapolate from tone and colour to moral rectitude and corruption, no doubt as the teacher had intended. He used as a source the master of light, JMW Turner: including this depiction of the 1781 massacre on the slave ship Zong that came to light when the owners tried to claim insurance on their cargo. One spiritual and practical outcome of the centuries-long struggles for self-emancipation by enslaved and colonised peoples is that these helped shape labour movements and democracy in the colonising countries (see for example Priyamvada Gopal: Insurgent Empire). We who now call ourselves free have a debt to those who struggled against oppression before us. Art does not pay that debt, but perhaps shapes our thoughts so we act in other ways.

My son took his theme from the 1927 dystopian silent film Metropolis, for its gloriously grainy black and white images. After he has finished and handed his work in, I have started to use this as source for planned lino prints. In Fritz Lang’s film, there is a strange plot twist in which the workers’ spiritual leader is captured and made the template for a robot that leads the downtrodden in revolutionary destruction. Here is the lino ready for cutting, with the initial charcoal sketch and tracing. Drawing, tracing and refining onto the lino reshapes my thoughts.

As an aside, here are the sketches and traces for the prints posted last week.

I have started to think about how I use the sketches I make, integrating those ideas. Here are starts. Above, I have drawn on canvas drawn in mixed greys and impure whites with water-miscible oils. The next step is to imagine colours onto this. Below, I drew in charcoal direct onto a lino block, aiming to sketch directly into a print (it’s a flawed idea as I will rub off the charcoal guide in cutting).

My weekly playlist, selected for my by spotify, included this track

which took me back to this moment in history, perhaps lost in more recent events

I am an atheist, but grace is something in which we all share.

Tombstone

Somehow these dark grey trunks silhouetted against the winter afternoon sky brought to mind tombstones. The field sketch is below using conte crayon, charcoal and white gouache in tinted paper.  Above, I tried to darken this with washes mixing burnt sienna with ultramarine or paynes grey, the watercolour scattering on the powdery surface.  I have also turned down the exposure on the photo.

Below is the quick preliminary drawing, with the sun behind me. In reality that trunk is tiled with rich brown scales mortared in green. I need to have another try at capturing that.

our history

Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens brings together musical traditions from her mixed race heritage in the southern States of the USA (her parents married only 3 years after the unconstitutional ban was overturned), along with Gaelic and wider sources. She is a phenomenal and versatile performer with ballet and opera composing credits to her name and recently appointed the artistic director of the Silk Road ensemble founded by cellist Yo Yo Ma. She is also a music historian. She traces the history of the banjo from its African roots through the travelling bands of enslaved then indentured musicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the appropriation of this genre into black-face minstrelsy continuing well into the twentieth century, and the general abandonment of this tainted culture by its originating people such that the banjo associates today with white folk music.

The preface to David Olosuga’s book Black and British describes how Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell fantasised a history in which empire is excised, returning to an imagined time of Britons untainted by rule, misdeed and othered people. This is indeed the history served up by our schools. However,  we cannot understand ourselves without history, and there is no history save that it contains Black and colonial history, out and inward migration, the rich mix of cultures and ideas that shapes our everyday heritage. Stripped down history to pretend a white narrative is thin gruel indeed.

On Sunday I chanced upon a live concert by Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, from her home in Ireland, relayed from Santa Barbara.  These are the sketches I did live and playing back the show. You can see I was really challenged trying to capture the shape of her face and features while singing, and I put the gallery of attempts below as a record.  By contrast Turrisi was quite easy to capture but he sat still and faced away from the camera looking at Giddens. In the sketch above, she is playing the viola and her face is full of shifting expressions as she looks back at him.

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