May Lilith haunt the dreams of judges and Hekate light our road

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.

Tracks

This started with a 15 minute sketch on Reading Station and a certain mood.

This was the sequence of painting, starting with the varying opacity seen through the canvas made by the initial acrylic white layer priming the canvas.

Then building in shapes taken from the platform, rails and evening sky in water-miscible oils.

Was this the point I should have stopped? It seemed too muted.

Left handed life drawing

So here’s a mix of drawings from our 90 minute session, and it will be obvious which were 2, 5, 10 and 20 minute sketches. We had a great model with excellent muscle definition. I switched media throughout, just for fun. Working only with my non-dominant hand is freeing. I think my lines are bolder, and this makes up for poorer fine coordination. I am generally working from inside out, blocking in content before finding the lines. One of the artists there is a professional sculptor recently moved from China, still looking at how to work here. Her drawings look like sculptures, extending off the page with wonderful definition of three dimensional shape. She was generous in her discussion of my drawings. The fourth down, the last I drew, was built on the contrast between the man and the red blanket he sat on. I felt I had struggled to control my materials. She, however, drew my attention to the abstraction and non-natural colours of Fauvism. I like this and I think I will try more for this sense next time.

life drawing

Thanks to Naomi, and to Hannah for organising these fortnightly sessions. I had no clear plan today and used a mix of techniques. This is a mix of 2, 5, 10 and 20 minute poses. note the two drawings superimposed on each other in blue and green sharpie (better had I used complementary colours). I think I am still overdrawing. Especially on the blue paper, fewer, bolder strokes might have worked better.

Bridge

These are my last sketches of Krakow.

Above is the Eglise Saint-Joseph drawn from the other bank of the Vistula. This was drawn in the shades of grey waterbrush pens in the 21x13cm watercolour sketchpad I had used throughout the trip..

A few hundred metres away is the Father Bernatek footbridge (Kładka Ojca Bernatka). On this are nine kinetic sculptures of acrobats, suspended among the bridge supports. This is a temporary exhibition called Between The Water and the Sky (Między wodą a niebem) by Polish artist Jerzy ‘Jotki’ Kędziora. These were sketched on panels of folded pastel paper in conte crayon.

I wondered at the slightly priapic appearance of the last sketch. Was that an accident of my drawing? No – looking back at my photo, I’m pretty sure that was there in the sculptor’s intent also.

Cafe and Klezmer: stop hating

At the STOP café in Krakow, the words on the wall say “STOP HATING yourself for everything you aren’t and start loving yourself for everything you already are”.

Walking the passageway leading into the Klezmer Hois restaurant in the Kazimierz district of Krakow, I had to navigate round piles of literary magazines. The tables are set amongst well-stocked book shelves.

Here there are nightly performances of Klezmer, the instrumental folk music of Ashkenazi Jews. When I was there, they played a song so well known that even I (two generations estranged from this heritage) know and play it. Hevenu Schalom Alejchem translates to We Brought Peace Unto You. Listening to this suddenly felt like an emptiness, in this place, with this history. I am wrong. Here, in the summer, takes place the largest annual Jewish Cultural Festival in the diaspora. The 31st season is June to July 2022. Watch this clip for a flavour.