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.
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.
Here are linocut images from the 1927 dystopian classic film Metropolis. The likeness of the heroine Maria is transferred to a doll that is purposed to discredit her.
The first image here is hand printed using a bamboo baren. The black background is under-inked but acquires texture. In the next print shown, I had flooded the cut yet somehow failed to ink up all the background. So many flaws here but I really like the accidental black shapes streaking all down the forehead to chin in the robot. This shares with the last version the accidental zigzag of ink on the outside is the left eye. I will try to plan these kind of effects in future cuts.
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.
This is a linocut version developed from the dog sketch below.
This version, I printed the foreground tree first in brown before overprinting in black.
This is the press I built this weekend. This 12mm plywood base is blued onto a support to lift it from the table. Two long nails, with their head sawn off and a paper frame act as guides.
Plastic packaging that coincidently arrived with a new barbecue (because, guess what, we can see family again, but only in the garden) works well as a blanket to apply even pressure. You can see ink through this only because I am printing on the reverse side of an earlier failed experiment.
The pressure is applied to the top plank using two slats of wood from an old bed frame. These are pre-tensioned and bowed slightly to take weight. Here the convex side is downwards so pressure at the ends will also transmit to the middle.
Pressure is applied through 4 small G clamps.
The first attempts were disappointing. This was solved by using the plastic blanket and switching the bowed slats to run longitudinally rather than across the upper plank. The effect was dramatic, with the printing paper recessed all round the lino block with, but not without, the blanket.
The next two versions are shown (made to guide further cutting of the block). The one directly below used brown ink contaminated with black from the first attempt. There are cuts in the tree that have failed to print as white gaps, but create a more interesting texture, somehow selectively attracting the black contaminant. This is worth exploring further.