drawn fast in cluttered room, standing

The Legacy of Rubens exhibition contains many drawings using simple white, red and black chalks on toned paper, by the old master himself and his contemporaries and successors, such as Watteau. The simplicity of this technique is deceptive, requiring clarity of vision, prioritising tones over colours.

2015 03 14 conte crayon (1)

The field sketch, above, was done through the window of the bird hide. I aimed to use just black, white, sepia and sanguine conte crayons on warm toned paper, but quickly lost sight of what I was trying to do and gave up.

2015 03 14 conte crayon (2)

After returning home, I wondered whether I should have used cool toned paper to provide a contrast with the sanguine chalk.  I started playing with this idea and quickly redid the sketch from memory.  I still am not using the tone of the paper, and found myself using colours in addition to the intended limited tonal range.

Visiting the Rubens exhibition for the second time, I had intended to draw the pieces in the last room.  However, I was hijacked by my eldest son turning up and shooting through the show’s highlights at speed and dragging me out again to eat at a Lebanese restaurant.

The following then is a written reflection. The last room in the Royal Academy exhibition responds to Rubens’ rolling depictions of human flesh and form, drawing not upon his contemporaries, pupils and imitators but on the responses by current and twentieth century artists.

Walking in, I was captivated by the asymmetrical jaw line, by the teeth bared by the rhomboid retracted upper lip and by the clouded divergent eyes in John Currin’s painting The Clairvoyant.

Three sculptures of “woman” corner the central space.  First, a pole-like single-breasted painted totem, wrought from clay, by Rebecca Warren. Facing this to the left is Sarah Lucas’ installation “two fried eggs and a kebab” (1992) in which these items are seemingly just plonked upon a table in a viciously comic pornographic caricature.  To the right is the same artist’s ‘Suffolk Bunny‘ (1997-2004) in which tan tights are stuffed to ape the female form, clad in blue stockings and clamped to a chair. Facing the hypotenuse of this space is Jenny Saville’s The Voice of the Shuttle, a large composition of carnage and disembodied heads in charcoal and paint: re-weaving a classical myth of rape and revenge, also depicted by Rubens.

I was captivated by the adjacent piece (Picasso: The Dream and Lie of Franco): two printed sheets, each divided into nine panels, satirising the dictator’s claim to represent the best of Spanish culture.

watching the watchers

2015 03 14 birds (2)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (8)

I was rooted staring at a virtual vertical rectangle into which the watchers stepped, stopped, turned and stood, looking at the heaving seas, smoke and broken boats that make up Manet’s canvas depicting the sinking of a famed confederate raider off the French coast.  The constantly shifting traffic part obscuring the painting – individuals staring, pairs turning to each other to comment, a couple meeting there and nestling into each other – was accompanied by the soft rhythm of quiet foot steps and low voices from the surrounding gallery.  I wanted to film this, but each time I took out my phone, the guard loomed threateningly.

2015 03 13 watching the watchers (5)  2015 03 14 birds (3)

I migrated from the Inventing Impressionism exhibition to another show, the Rubens legacy at the Royal Academy.  Here I found a spot to sit facing a huge fantastical violent canvas, where I could draw people as they were captured to gape at the piece.

2015 03 13 watching the watchers (4)   2015 03 14 birds (4)

Birds, as subjects for drawing, are themselves continually watching, alert for threats and opportunities.  Great created grebes, seemingly asleep with their heads tucked well back near the middle of their bodies, behind the broad prow formed by their white necks, in fact are moving purposefully, staying together as a pair, slowly rotating on the water.

2015 03 14 birds (5)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (3)2015 03 13 watching the watchers (2)

2015 03 14 birds (6)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (1)

2015 03 14 birds (1)  2015 03 13 watching the watchers (6)

Anslem Kiefer at the Royal Academy III: Lapis Philosphorum

20141017 Anselm Keiffer at the RA (8)

Lapis philosphorum: the gold and blue of the virgin’s cowl descend.  To the left there is a busyness of rushes and to the right these open out to reveal a pool of water.  There is no balance in this philosophical discourse, rather a rock is weighed by the deformation of metal.

This is a piece created, I think, specifically for the RA in 2013, and is striking for the heavy gold leaf overlaying blue at the top and the sculpture projecting in front of the flat image.

Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy II: Operation Sea Lion

20141017 Anselm Keiffer at the RA (1)

This was how I reacted to Kiefer’s painting that reflected on the sea landing and invasion of the British Isles, planned for 1941 but never executed.

The serried ranks of forward facing, hopeful faces like rows of houses in the city, surtopped by the high cranes of the three chairs against the deep blue sky.  The tin ships battle in the bath but behind, on the horizon, the city burns.

The sketch was made in a couple of minutes facing the painting and finished from memory on the train home.  It is not intended to represent this monumental work (how could I do that?) but record my feelings and impressions in the moment.


Anselm Keifer at the Royal Academy I

20141017 Anselm Keiffer at the RA (5)

The giant canvas the Orders of the Night shows tall sunflowers silhouetted above the corpse of the artist.  This dominated my view at the Royal Academy even when seen from afar through a series of arches.

20141017 Anselm Keiffer at the RA (9)

The gallery is open late on a Friday night.  It was busy.  Although a large group of herded students all carried sketchpads and one or two others made brief written notes, I felt very exposed as the only person with the cheek to draw in this temple of art.

I had first heard of Alselm Kiefer through an art workshop a couple of years ago.  This led to my making a piece We Must Leave as a conscious exercise using Kiefer’s approaches to materials, political statement and the incorporation of words within the image.