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.
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.
Life drawing with Sophie. Organised by Hannah at Selena’s Hostel in Birmingham a week ago last Sunday. I mostly used the shades of grey brush pens with coloured sharpies for the tattoos.
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.
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.
Content warning. This post references the Holocaust.
“A photograph of a boy in the rain, a boy unknown to you or me … the image conjures up the vivid presence of the unknown boy. To his father it would define the boy’s absence”. John Berger and Jean Mohr, A Seventh Man, Pelican Books, 1975.
This is a binary: the stranger and the family member look on the same portrait image differently: one sees a person, the other feels their absence.
Genocide creates another dynamic altogether.
In these pictures, drawn of the exhibits at the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, I have drawn samples of the huge collection of things taken from people, mostly Jews, before they were murdered, remnants of very personal and intimate plunder.
These are examples of what is exhibited at the Memorial under the heading “Evidence of Crimes”.
In Block 4 of the Auschwitz I camp is displayed a huge quantity of human hair cut from the inmates, before or after death. Some has been woven into cloth. Photographs are not permitted and I did not draw these human remains. These can be seen on the link above.
My drawings do not bring to us the “vivid presence” of unknown people. To whom did these many spectacles, this plethora of orthopaedic aids, belong? Who was each child who wore each pair of shoes? Who were the men who wore the Tallit, the prayer shawls?
This is what genocide is. It is not just killing. It is eradication. These images, these many objects, do not make their owners present to us, strangers in a future time. Their family, who even generations later might have felt their absence, they too were wiped out in this conflagration.
On the study tour earlier that day, I was disconnected from the reality of this camp of slaughter, even standing at the wall where families were shot, or looking down into the unroofed chamber where people undressed before being crammed into the gas chamber. However, I wept while drawing these images, and do so again posting them here.
Follow @AuschwitzMuseum on Twitter. Daily, the museum posts photographs of Auschwitz inmates with what little we know of them and their fate. These photographs of individuals bring their presence to us who are strangers.
(content warning: this post relates to the Holocaust)
“It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.” Jacob Bronowski 1973
Jacob Bronowski was a mathematician, poet and philosopher who fronted a television series called The Ascent of Man documenting the development of scientific thought. I watched this when I was 12 and it profoundly influenced what became my identity as a clinician-scientist. Episode 11 included the sequence filmed by the gas chambers and crematoria at the far end of the huge Birkenau concentration and death camp complex. In my late teens, I wrote out his words and drew his face over them.
His voice saying these words have played and replayed in my mind for 48 years. As he speaks, he walks out, in his best shoes and suit, into the water, stoops and takes a handful of the mud. “We have to touch people” he says.
My journey last week to the Polish town of Oświęcim (German version, Auschwitz) was, I suppose, a kind of pilgrimage. I stood and drew, with my evening shadow stretched out across those waters that had been made the final resting place for a murdered population. I had come to honour the dead.