Here is another sketch of Moore’s sculpture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I sat to draw so my eye was aligned with the knot and radiating cracks in the wooden block. One might view this as a mutilated man, two limbs hacked off in battle. From this angle, though, my view was different. Here is a male body. The one leg, bent at the knee, truncated at the foot, and one arm and hand, wielding the shield as defence and weapon, are sufficient. On the side facing me, the limbs are still present, just not actualised, and instead expressive power is given to the shoulder and hip.
I called in on the last day of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Prize exhibition. Here is a quick pen sketch on brown packing paper, finished at home with conte crayon, of a ceramic by Jasmina Ajzenkol. I was attracted by its oblate spheroid (flattened like the Earth) shape rising to two points like jaws. Behind is a bronze bust of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, eighteenth century landscape gardener, by Robert Page.
The Royal Academy have paired Bill Viola‘s huge video installations with Michaelangelo‘s exquisite muscular Christs, serene Virgins and flailing horses. Viola’s triptych of Man slowly surfacing through water is flanked by women, one splayed and crying giving birth, the other, his mother, insensate, dying. This “deeply spiritual” portrayal of life’s journey seemed crudely gendered: man the artist, man the observer, man the not-bloody-get-on-and-do-something-useful, not even hold a hand or wipe a brow. Michaelangelo’s drawings are remarkable. His tiny still images dwarf Viola’s great moving tableaux: the soft strokes of chalk building shapes in four dimensions. Still, even placing them behind me, Viola’s intrusive art resulted in my having irreverent and ridiculous thoughts. The great master draughtsman was on his own journey of self-discovery. Mary cradle’s her son’s body but her face is calm, never touched by childbirth or mourning. That itinerant rabbi is strangely ripped and, interestingly, beardless. In drawing after drawing He rises straight up from the tomb, his body erect in the morning after the cold sleep of death.
I found myself outside the exhibition, drawing the 10 foot high cast of the marble from the courtyard of Palazzo Farnese in Rome. My observation went to pot, my brain contradicting what I saw: I gifted him with head and genitals in proportion to his huge muscular body whereas on the statue both seemed ridiculously small. He leans on his huge knobbly war club, which is hooded by a draped hide, bringing to my mind a woman’s inner lips. What did the sculptor mean to show? It just made me laugh: are we men being trolled across the centuries by what appears a hilarious parody of male prowess?
Upstairs, I drew a cast of an ancient torso, shorn of limbs and head, which is placed in front of a drawing for a never completed painting of Thetis bringing the grieving Achilles his armour. Once again, my eye failed me and I lost the sense of depth, such that the impressive sculpture and the hero’s whitened face appear to lean in conspiratorially.