rant

I am stunned by the utter chaos and shambles of the current Tory government in the UK.  It goes beyond partisan politics, beyond incompetence, beyond corruption.

Elected to “get Brexit done”, this Tory government passed a Withdrawal Bill in January bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny and now say this is not the Brexit they intended, but it’s become an international treaty which is law so they announce in Parliament that they will knowingly break the law to rewrite it unilaterally, so the most senior lawyers in the civil service have resigned as they are duty-bound to do, meanwhile this Tory government champions Britannia ruling the waves by threatening small inflatables carrying handfuls of frightened asylum-seekers with the might of the Royal Navy, meanwhile this Tory government voted overwhelmingly against putting into law measures to prevent another horrific Grenfell Tower fire, meanwhile this Tory government plans to criminalise peaceful activists trying to place climate change central to public policy, meanwhile this Tory government, building on ten years of deliberate unpreparedness for a predictable pandemic thus killing more than forty thousand people, now, after six months and in the face of an obvious and predictable rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections as we enter autumn, this Tory government still cannot offer a effective Track and Trace system despite spending billions, cannot source protective gear in the UK and have made no preparations for schools to reopen other than mantras and wishful thinking so in a few weeks and with more deaths those same schools will shut with no plans for how to educate children except spitting out recriminations and instead this Tory government shouts at young people, whom they had previously hectored that it was their patriotic duty to go out to eat and drink and go to work in offices not work at home and buy sandwiches and repopulate trains, now they tell those young people, “don’t kill yer gran”…

 

 

I could go on.

scratch

Here are experiments with a Conte a Paris charcoal stick, on various surfaces, rough 100% cotton rag and smooth paper and with various layers of dampening to catch the lines.  Some have 2B charcoal over this or a touch of colour from Conte crayons.  Some are from my recent photos and others outdoors.  Above a disused aquaduct across a river, below the view down a gully to the sea.

Here I was trying to capture the lines made by fast flowing water down stream of a weir and the smooth deep welling as it reached the stones. There is a bit of Paynes grey watercolour used to wet the paper.

Here a small sketch of the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, waiting for a train.

The next three are all from the same vantage point on a bridge looking at the trees and woods stretching behind the bank of the canal, in the order of drawing.  It shows I have to draw and draw again to see something, which is that the composition is not made by the trees but by the three enclosed fields.

This last was done with stick willow charcoal outdoors and later reworked in brush pen, leaving the charcoal layer intact.

H charcoal squares and shapes (17 sketches, a journey)

I have been using a pen and Indian ink, drawing texture from inside shapes as in the next two pictures. However, I want to simplify my field sketches.

I have approached these next drawings differently. I start by mapping the image mentally onto a square and then apply simple blocky shapes to build the sketch.

The instrument I chanced upon is an old charcoal pencil. It is an unsubtle H grade, unyielding when mark making. Even sharpened it quickly reverts to a chisel.  The squared-off edge imposes jerky movements and irregular polygonal shapes.

Even so, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to try for shading tones and building textures, as in the evening fields below (I was out looking for owls and observing Jupiter and Saturn rise). But the tool is too crude for this purpose.

Below are two attempts at the same woodland, looking through the leaf-clad trunks rising from dense fern undergrowth.  Light filters through from the sky and there is dense shade in a hollow made by an A of two leaning trees and a bush.  The hard charcoal cannot offer the contrasts of shading I wanted.

Further along the same woodland (I was cycling the Tarka trail between Great Torrington and Bideford in Devon) I tried again.  This time I licked the drawing point (and a little grossed out, dipped it in water) to deepen the tones.

In the next pair of drawings, now from a cliff top, I started with a charcoal sketch overdrawn with a soft graphite stick.  I then redrew this, reverting to heavy lines and crude shapes, splodging it with watercolour from a fat squirrel hair brush.  Interestingly the H grade charcoal seems pretty water-fast.

In another clifftop view, the charcoal and watercolour is overlaid with a black marker for depth of tone and conte crayon for texture.

At the estuary at Bideford, a boat drawn up onto the bank gave the foreground, with the Torridge bridge behind.  On a baking afternoon, the sun behind me, there were few variations in tone. I found myself simply colouring in my shapes, making this a naive (= childish?) painting.

Further up river, from the Landcross bridge I drew a crenellated building on the river bank, set against trees.  A search on the internet reveals this to be ruined lime kilns, shaped according to the landowners whim. This simple fast drawing is closer to my purpose: the paint should not simply follow the lines.

I lost the charcoal pencil  from my drawing kit.  So I reverted to the pen, but now keeping the lines to a minimum.  I could not use the bite of this smooth paper to capture the reflected sky sparkling from the water.  Instead I used a white conte crayon as a resist before dragging wet colour across. I also used crayon to adjust the intensity of tone on the distant hills and overlay the near grasses.

A shout to Outside Authority whose enigmatic drawings always influence me.

Meditation

 

 

This is Packwood House, built by a 16th century family of yoeman farmers (including the second generation lawyer) who accumulated land and built this house through their own labour, likely the unrecognised labour of the household’s women, and the labour of other hired workers (for example, it was extended by Roger Hurlbutt, a notable master carpenter, in 1670).  In the eighteenth century that family laid out the huge yew topiary representing the twelve apostles and their master. That lineage having foundered, the much modified Elizabethan house was transformed into a twentieth century artwork by Graham Baron Ash, who incorporated architectural structures from old buildings facing demolition and historical objects harvested from salesrooms.  These included a bed slept in by a queen the eve before giving battle and a chimney piece that might once have warmed Shakespeare’s arse. This Ash was fourth generation of a line of business men, two generations prospering through four surviving sons, moving from grocery into manufacturing from zinc. Their company, Ash and Lacey, still operates today: it reported in 2018 a gender pay gap of 15.9% commenting this is lower than the national average.  Most zinc is mined.  I cannot tell where the Ash family’s zinc originated, perhaps from northern India during the Empire, nor the labour conditions by which the metal was extracted.

 

 

social distance

Our foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, would not take the knee except to his wife or the queen, sees it as a symbol of subjugation, thinks it comes from Game of Thrones.

We took the knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in the main road.  The traffic stopped and waited in silence.  It hurts to put weight on one knee that long.  It was an honour to do so: celebrating our common humanity, recognising and opposing White power and violence, being part of a 250 year-long history extending from the iconography of Josiah Wedgwood to the actions of Colin Kaepernick and others on the streets and sport-fields.

What is the value of such protests?  It seems remarkable that there was a rally, nearing a thousand-strong, in Solihull, a Tory voting suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham. The traffic hooted its support.  People of all ethnic backgrounds took part and gave witness.  This is reclaiming the history that belongs to us all but which is airbrushed from the curriculum and media.  At the war memorial we called on the handful of defensive men to join us, to champion the common values for which those soldiers died, fighting fascism. They refused, embracing their fearful myths and clutching themselves round the cold stone like it might hatch.

Does this raise consciousness?  Are White people on these marches just signalling virtue without challenging their relative privilege, without building a better future for all our children?  Its hard to know.  One thing I will say is this.  When you walk, you can chant “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice No Peace” and even “say his name George Floyd“, “say her name “Breonna Taylor“.  However, when you say out loud “I can’t breathe” and think, just think, really why we are saying that, then it becomes hard to breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

for sale

I cycle past this old mill regularly.  Its for sale.  It looks ridiculously impractical and probably a money trap.  Still, I cant help dreaming as I go past.  Next to the mill is the river, widening at this point and a ford with a foot bridge.  I have drawn from that bridge before, below are sketches from 2016 and 2014.

 

Fragments

Race linked to White and Non-White skin colour is an invention founded in exploitation and slavery in Europe and its colonies over centuries.  Empire and capitalism created divisions to justify and facilitate the extraction of value from people through actual and economic violence.  Alongside this is a history of shared humanity and resistance to these divisions.

White is a fluid concept.  To make our lives and our children’s lives more secure, we acquire camouflage to mimic or blend in with privileged people.  There is more to this than skin tone, but colour is a key marker.  So, like many others, three generations of my ancestors progressively shed their poor Polish Jewish identity to redefine what it is to be White so that it included them, claiming the trappings of being middle class and privileged.  That must have been hard, but their skin was pale and no visible tag of that journey remains in me.

Being White, I need not think about race.  I can say: I do not have a race; race is a problem for other people, race is a problem for the people we group together as Black and Minority Ethnicity, race is their problem.

As a White social liberal I can say: I treat everyone the same regardless of skin colour and expect the same back; racism is a problem for people being abusive on public transport, or the deplorable Leavers or MAGAs and their antidiluvian attitudes; racism is not my problem; racism is a problem between racists and Black and Minority Ethnicity people.

If you challenge me on this, I can be defensive: I can say I did not choose my skin colour, did not enslave anyone, did not kneel on his neck nor fire those guns.

History is dynamic. We do not make what came before us, but we selectively mythologise historical events to build our culture and identity, continually making and remaking our society.  We choose what we see and what we ignore.  Privilege means we choose many things in our daily lives that reduce or perpetuate division and exploitation.  Being White and privileged, we determine what we expect of our public servants, the politicians, the unelected officials, the police, the teachers.  We are small fish swept along in the shoal, but we are also actors.  We make choices that influence the direction of the crowd.  So in this way, White supremacy is both perpetuated and undermined.

White supremacy is a problem for White people: so it is my problem to solve and if also you are White, then also it is your problem to solve.  When we duck the challenge, we support White supremacy.

When we own and oppose White supremacy, we have to actively see what had been invisible to us, seek out the history of empire censored from the curriculum and the news, give way and listen and promote the voices of those who are White supremacy’s most immediate victims, protest, bravely challenge not just the racists but our liberal friends, donate also if we can, make changes through wise and courageous voting.

There are many links.   Here are some, for which there is an opportunity to donate.  I have included speeches of the many that moved me.

Black Lives Matter

Minnesota Freedom Fund

The Stephen Lawrence Trust

Anti-racism book list

Rapper Killer Mike speaks: “it is time to fortify our own house .. plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize”  Note the police chief in the background: she went among the crowds of protesters and listened.

Tamika Mallory speaks “Don’t talk to me about looting. You are the looters”.

General CQ Brown speaks “I am thinking about our two sons and how we had to prepare them to live in two worlds”