Henry Moore’s sculpture grew from the shape of a pebble. I stood behind the bronze to make this sketch, aiming to use just white and light and dark sanguine to define it. Once home, I couldn’t resist working over the lines again. I perhaps should have left well alone.
Brexit day has been and gone since I last posted from the Peoples’ Vote march but we seem to be in the same place as that weekend. I notice that the Labour Party is desperately looking for candidates to fight the European Parliamentary elections. If you are short of something to do for a few months, it seems a good idea, a political taster. It might be a way of having fun and meeting new people! You have to have been a member for a year to stand for Labour, but if you are, you already know they are looking for candidates- check your email feed. If not, there’s always the independent group who are less fussy who they take.
Here is Parliament Square this evening, as people mill about not quite ready to go home after the People’s Vote march. The statue of Churchill facing into the gale is silhouetted against the white cladding covering part of St Margaret’s Church.
We are in this odd position in which Parliament cannot bring itself to ratify the treaty by which we leave the European Union with a transition period and without immediate chaos. All arrangements ending our membership are detrimental to the wider economic and political interests of the UK, so whatever might be the stated opinions of individual Members of Parliament, psychologically and collectively they just cannot bring themselves to commit this act.
The small number of die-hard radicals of the Conservative Party actively want to leave without a treaty, the so-called No Deal, so they and their class can profit financially from the chaos that will impoverish the majority. The even fewer Northern Irish Democratic Unionists prop up the government and are unrepresentative of the people of that province. They reject the treaty because it makes transparent the political reality: after Brexit, Northern Ireland must have a status different to mainland UK if there is to be no return to a hard border with Eire and the sectarian polarisation that would bring. My party, Labour, reject the treaty not because it is bad (because all routes out of the EU are bad) but because we have three more years of government by a wretched Conservative Party unwilling to seek a consensus vision for Britain after Brexit. It is a certainty that the Conservatives will cast in law a post-Brexit settlement which undermines workers’ pay, conditions and rights and environmental protections. They will be free to enter trade deals with other countries to reshape our National Health Service on the USA for-profit model and prevent government limiting the exorbitant prices of pharmaceuticals. This is the one chance for Labour to bind the government’s hands. However, strategically they are on the back foot as Theresa May doggedly refuses to compromise, beyond all reason.
So here I was at the the largest political protest in the UK’s history: a million people united in demanding a second referendum and a chance to reject Brexit this time round or at least a way out the impasse Parliament has created. Still, even if Brexit were to be overturned, what will we do about the conditions of austerity and inequality which so disaffected people in the first place, and which are frankly so much more important than whether we stay in or leave the European Union? I begin to realise Brexit is a side show. In or out of the EU, what we need is political vision which addresses with intelligence and compassion the real issues: planetary destruction, violence and poverty.
Note the most middle class insult ever on a banner (or is this reverse snobbery?) “Theresa May puts the milk in first” with a picture of a cup of tea.
Here are some sketches in a limited range of pastels or conte crayons, intended as exercises in tone and texture.
Half a millennium ago, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were creating exquisite detailed drawings from layered fine strokes of red and black chalk. In da Vinci’s interpretation of a thicket of trees, each crumb of pigment is a leaf, is light or shade. Michelangelo’s horses writhe as Phaethon falls from the skies.
Many of these drawings are held by our monarch in the Royal Collection, the da Vinci doodles snapped up by Charles II. The Michelangelo drawings are on display in the Royal Academy and those by da Vinci are currently distributed in galleries across the UK. Their art marked a step change in Western thought: observation as a systematic process, which also underpins the development of science.
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.