Fire they had already in abundance. They had no need to steal it, nor to commission its theft for pity. What heaven’s burglar gained them was the hearth, and later metal casings to make the fire work.
After fire, though, came the gifts, freely given. They unwrapped these in awe, each miracle more wondrous than the last.
The waves were tamed, accepting the actual oceans were unruly. The sails were filled, though of course they could not direct the wind. The baby’s head was guided. Skins could be made more durable with piss and fibres woven into cloths. Water was directed and fields sown with bland food so rock could be hewn and cities built.
Sisterhood they had had for ever, but brotherhood through shared ideas was new: yes, empire and slavery were among the gifts, and the capture and exchange and use of women too.
Some gifts showed great workmanship and had been long in the making. From the very first, encapsulated life defended its integrity by capturing, cutting, splicing and inserting invading parasitic genes. This was the gift, that they might use life’s defences as a tool to change the sequences encoding their own nature.
When the basket seemed empty, they carried on looking, turning it over, shaking it and feeling at the seams. They knew the story, of course, and were looking for hope. They wanted a myth they might believe in, so they might act positively, winning against the odds.
They found something almost as good. The last gift of all was wishful thinking, that this might all go well.
There is an desperate archive of diverse Jewish folk songs, originating across Hitler’s Europe and hidden in Kiev through Stalin’s rule. Here is immediacy, witness, satire and heartbreak. In trenches, soldiers lampoon their oppressors (I learn from the New Yorker article that nearly half a million Jews in the Red Army battled the Nazis, a third of whom died).
I had started this drawing already, riffing on the idea of a stringed instrument, using Zen Brush on the iPad. I added in layers in another programme, Procreate, and by now I was listening to the voice and violin, dances and laments, on the album Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II.
The hand started as the guitarist’s grip but might be seen differently as the fanatic’s grasp.
Sometimes all I have to draw on is the small screen of a older version iPhone. I like Zen Brush, a monochrome package building images through layers of greys with pressure sensitive variable brush size in a single stroke. I notice that daubing on a small screen with one finger lends itself to swirls.
These next three were begun in the interval of a play, trying to recreate from memory Ian McKellen as the sly, sometimes ingratiating, sometimes cruel, Spooner in Harold Pinters “No Man’s Land“. Eventually, I was working from various unsatisfactory photographs but never quite caught his likeness or character. I found myself captivated by the sheer scale of his nose.
The following faces were done waiting around during the children’s swimming lessons. One is a surreptitious sketch of a shawled woman either eating or talking in her phone. The other is an imaginary, more abstract visage.
Swirls, spirals and dots seem to lend themselves to astronomical depiction, like looking out onto the vastness of the universe through a very small window.
In the experimental drawing workshops, we worked on two pieces in parallel. The first started as straight non-overlapping lines in charcoal and was posted as “Wildcode“. The second was built from curved lines, always reserving an area of paper free of carbon stains. This was then stored on a rack. When I looked at it a week later, it had acquired an imprint of a piece of metal that was more interesting than the original drawing. I built on that in charcoal layers, then throwing white gouache at it. This is fixed and photographed. I have cropped and tinted the image using Artrage on the iPad.