Here are a further bunch of sketches from the British Museum “Feminine Power” exhibition. I have now seen this I think four times with different people. Here I revisited the bronze Lilith I have drawn before. Next is the stone Cihuateteo (Aztec) representing the deified warriors who died in childbirth. After these come Aphrodite and Athena. Then is Guan Yin, a complex Bhuddist enlightened one associated with compassion.
Last is a quick sketch of a dancer at the BBC prom last weekend Glass Handel at the Printworks, London. This was a musical installation in a large industrial space with counter-tenor, orchestra, beat-boxing, ballet, procession and video.
Here are three coloured twenty minute life drawing poses on tan paper with construction lines drawn in conte crayon and the figure painted in white, black, burnt sienna and cobalt blue.
In addition, the two, five and ten minute drawings on black paper were drawn freehand in just white and black gouache, following on from this picture I admired last week in the Manchester Art Gallery.
I switched between different sketches, either using a large flat brush filling space or a soft squirrel mop that comes to a point and tends to free flowing lines.
Here are more sketches done in grey brushpens (the 2 and 5 minutes sketches at the bottom) and in gouache on toned paper (10 and 20 minute poses). The palette is simple, white, ultramarine, burnt sienna, with some elements of cobalt blue, crimson, terra verte, lemon yellow. I am using a single flat brush for almost all the marks. The idea here is to use the time discipline of these fast poses to force me to prepare mentally and then make fast mark making decisions in paint. Since I did these, I visited the British Art Show 9 exhibition at Manchester Art gallery where I saw Hurvin Anderson‘s painting “Is It OK To Be Black?” I really liked the simple expressive heads painted in with broad continual brush strokes of white on black. Something like that seems worth a try this coming weekend.
This was a raised area in a wood in Cornwall marked on the map as a settlement. Now it is overgrown with trees and moss covers the area where I guess once people lived maybe surrounded by some kind of fence. No ruins were visible to me.
I painted this in gouache as an experiment in simplifying the colours and shapes looking for a print-like quality. The sketch in conte crayon and water was done on site.
These were little sketches made with grey brushpens, Indian ink fountain pen and water on a walk in Derbyshire last month.
These are from a few weeks ago. Covid intervened and I missed a life drawing session. Here I started in the 2 to 10 minute poses just using pen and switched to gouache for the three 20 minute poses. I painted onto toned paper, but blocked in a shape then added light and dark on top. I have a plan next time to make better use of that toned paper so I can be more sparing with paint, and also to paint more in flat blocks of tone and let these do the shaping rather than the brush strokes.
The current exhibition at the British Museum brings together “sculptures, sacred objects and artworks” across time and place exploring a question, framed by classicist Mary Beard as “How do you represent feminine power or desire in material form?”
I cannot post these sketches from the exhibition without saying this. Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned a decades old ruling on privacy that had defended women’s right to choose with respect to abortion. This horrifying misogynistic attack will coerce, control, incarcerate and kill women across the USA. This assault on women is of a piece with world-wide assaults on bodily autonomy, for example the increasing exclusion of trans people from affirming health care and civil society, and a rise in violent homophobia. As we increasingly celebrate diversity and fluidity in ourselves and others with regard to gender and sexuality, the reaction is to police our behaviour and expression within narrowly defined limits. These are spear points to fracture and exhaust us, and distract us, so we stumble down a road leading to fascism.
The female form has been exploited across time and six continents as a vehicle to express ideas about our very nature as evolved, natural, thinking, creative, social, hierarchical and transgressive beings.
The exhibition takes six themes: Creation and Nature, Passion and Desire, Magic and Malice, Justice and Defence, Compassion and Salvation.
Passion and desire are driving forces, in manifestations extending from lust, ecstasy, rage, wisdom and conquest. It is a transgressive disrupting force and can be a glue holding together relationships and society. The 1994 sculpture “Lilith: the first woman” by Kiki Smith shows Adam’s first wife, expelled from Paradise for desiring sexual dominance, crouching on a vertical surface above our heads. My little drawings, attempted twice, did not capture the majesty of this bronze figure. May Lilith haunt the dreams of the justices.
Monstrous women, demon goddesses, witches sit both at the fringes of society and at its heart, independent, aggressive, protective, vengeful, wise. The Roman god Hekate symbolises transition, gazing at three pathways. She is light in darkness. May we choose well our future direction.