Kenoujak Ashevak (and me) in Paris

On Tuesday I got back from a short family trip to Paris. We revisited old favorites (Cluny Museum, crème brûlée) and savoured some new (chocolate soup, Rodin Museum). I’ll share those later, but first, a highlight:

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris.

This exhibition showcased 40 works by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), an artist from Ikirasaq, near Baffin Island in the Northwest territories of Canada. Ashevak transferred her skills in traditional inuit textile designs to drawing and printmaking and became one of the first artists from the area to attract international attention.

Her images often depict birds and animals, sometimes alone, sometimes in symmetrical groupings. Some are drawn cleanly and straightforwardly, others are surrounded by blobby protrusions, as if appearing from the patterns of ice floes, like images discovered in cloud formations.

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak is on show at the Canadian Cultural Centre, 5 rue de constantine, Paris 7ème until 6th September 2013.

Ashevak was also the subject of this short film Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak made in 1963 by John Feeney, available to see for free on the National Film Board of Canada website.

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Animation

This week (and next) I’m in Ukraine teaching art. Amongst drawing, painting, photography, art history, printing, T-shirt design and a multitude of games, one of my favourite activities so far has been making animations with my pupils. We used stapled booklets of tracing paper, and, starting from the back, drew a picture on each sheet, changing it a little each time. Try this once and you’ll realise how much work went into the old Disney films (24 frames a second to be exact).

Here’s the demonstration piece I made before I arrived. There are 16 different frames in total (numbered in the corner), edited in iPhoto and iMovie.

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And here’s one I made earlier.

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(шутка!)

Drawing Games

A few drawing games I tried out last week to liven up lessons and practice co-ordination skills. There are no age or ability limitations to these games, and the more people the better (a touch of drawing rivalry makes the resulting pieces more interesting).

Consequences/ Exquisite Corpse

Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray, 1926-7

A game that requires more than one person and especially lends itself to pub napkins. Originally invented by children across the world and then taken up by the Surrealist group who renamed it ‘Exquisite Corpse’ after their collaborative sentence “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine”. The drawers take it in turns to draw a section of a ‘thing’ (I usually say a monster or new species), folding back the section of paper once they’ve finished and leaving a thin strip visible for the next person to continue. Once you’ve run out of paper, unfold the group drawing and see what you’ve got.

Orientation/ Don’t look down!

I wasn’t sure what to call this one. It simply involves the drawer sketching an object without looking at their piece of paper. If you have more than one person, they can sit opposite one another and draw each other. I held sheets of paper under my pupils’ noses to preempt peeking. This game is a really good exercise for looking and page orientation.

One Line Drawing

The drawer draws a person or object without taking his/her pencil off the page. Try it out with different materials – I find biros and felt-tips lend extra confidence.

Blind Drawing

Does what it says on the tin. The drawer looks at an object for 3 to 20 seconds (depending on how cruel the tutor is feeling), then draws it blindfolded.

Even William Morris didn’t get it right the first time

William Morris (1834 – 1896), Philip Webb (1831 – 1915), Trellis wallpaper design (1862).
Pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, 66 x 61 cm.
© William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest

In this sketch for his first wallpaper design, Trellis, William Morris made light sketches, altered the position of leaves and tested out colours for the background before settling on the final piece. He even got his friend, the designer and architect Philip Webb, to draw the birds for him.

The drawing is on display in the delightful William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow!

William & Jane Morris

Jane drawingWilliam Morris, drawing of Jane Morris in medieval costume, 1861, pencil and ink on paper, 51 x 41cm.  © William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest

Last month I gave a short talk at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow about a piece on display. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to research and talk about a drawing I love and give my interpretation. Here’s a typed version of what I said, with a few extra dates and details.

This is a drawing by William Morris, of his wife Jane. It was made in 1861, two years after the Morris’ marriage. The drawing seems unfinished; in fact it is a preparatory sketch for a wall painting.

Jane may well look familiar; she is best known as the muse and model of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and is recogniseable as the subject of a number of his paintings. She remains something of a celebrity-figure: for much of 2012 she starred on posters across London for the Tate exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, as the central figure in Rossetti’s painting Astarte Syriaca of 1877.

Before her marriage to William, Jane’s surname was Burden. She was born in Oxford in 1839, to Robert Burden, a stableman, and his wife Ann Maizey. It was here in Oxford, in 1857,  that she first met Rossetti. Jane and her sister were attending a performance of the touring Drury Lane Theatre Company, when she was spotted by Rossetti, who declared her a ‘stunner’ and invited her to sit for him. She began modelling for him, and then, after Rossetti introduced her to his friend, for Morris. Painting, however, was not Morris’s forte, and he made only this drawing and one painting of his wife. Once while trying to paint Jane, his wrote on the canvas “I can’t paint you but I love you”.

As I have said, Jane is best known as a model for Rossetti’s paintings. She modeled for him from their meeting in 1857, long after Jane’s marriage to William in 1859, and up until Rossetti’s death in 1882. As Jan Marsh has pointed out, Jane’s “long love affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti has become the stuff of legend”. The deeply affectionate nature of their relationship is obvious from surviving letters, as well as the large amount of time they must have spent together for Rossetti’s paintings. Throughout this complex relationship, however, Rossetti and William Morris remained friends, and fellow workers as partners in the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and co.

Jane and this drawing form part of the close connection between the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts & Crafts movement. After William and Jane married in 1859, their friends helped to decorate and furnish their new marital home, Red House. Morris made this drawing as a preparatory sketch for a wall painting which was planned for the house, but never executed. It shows Jane posed as if she is about to board a ship; the ladder she is about to step onto, and the planks of the vessel can be seen faintly sketched around her.

There are differing interpretations as to the subject matter depicted; she may be Iseult, the Irish princess who fatefully fell in love with Tristan aboard a ship heading for Cornwall, but it seems more likely that she represents Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships.

Morris has put particular care and attention into the hair and fabric in his depiction, especially the beautifully-patterned sleeve lining of Jane’s dress. This reflects his turning towards the decorative arts at the time, as he sets up the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and co. the very same year, then in 1862 made Trellis – his first wallpaper design.

The subject matter of the drawing and medievalising costume show Morris’ interest in past eras. Through art and design, he harked back to what he believed to be periods of greater craftsmanship, freedom and creativity, in contrast to the industrialism, artifice and restriction of Victorian Britain. These sentiments were shared and expressed by his friends and associates in the circle of the firm and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Jane herself seems to have shared these sentiments. She and William worked closely on needlework projects, together unpicking old pieces of embroidery to discover and recreate old techniques. She was a skilled seamstress and is likely to have made the dress she wears for this drawing, as she did for Rossetti’s painting The Blue Silk Dress of 1868. The dress she wears for William’s drawing harks back to the medieval period and is loose flowing. It would have been easy to move in compared to conventional women’s clothing of the time, which controlled and shaped women’s bodies with corsets and crinolines. In photographs of Jane and her two daughters, they wear similarly loose, unconventional clothing.

It is easy to see Jane Morris as a still, silent and demure muse, because the paintings and photographs we ‘know’ her through are still, silent and demure. We often make the mistake of interpreting sitters, particularly women, through the medium by which we see them. However, once we realise that our perspective is distorted, we can see them in a different light.

What I find most interesting about this drawing is how it reveals Jane Morris’ contribution to the Arts & Crafts movement and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She may have sat or stood still for this drawing and many other works, but she also contributed to them by her actions and movements, notably her skill in dressmaking and embroidery. This drawing reveals a collaboration between William and Jane.

None of the many paintings, drawings or photographs of Jane show her smiling, but in real life she did! A friend of Jenny & May Morris regularly visited the house, and remembers Jane for her “delicious and chuckling laugh with which she would greet our youthful extravagances”.

Bibliography

Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, Alison Smith (eds.), Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avante-Garde (Tate, 2012)

Jonathon Benington, Simply Stunning: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Dressing (Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museums, 1996)

John Bryson and Janet Camp Troxell (eds.), Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris: Their Correspondence
(Oxford University Press, 1976)

Jan Marsh, The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (Quartet Books, 1998)

Jan Marsh and Frank C. Sharp (eds.), The Collected Letters of Jane Morris (Boydell Press, 2012)

Linda Nochlin, The Politics of Vision: essays on nineteenth-century art and society  (Thames & Hudson, 1991)

A day for scissors, glue and paint

Today I helped out with a family activity day at the William Morris gallery. Since William Morris visited Iceland (twice) and was inspired by its beautiful landscape, culture and traditional handicrafts, the theme was ‘Iceland adventure’.

I learned a few things: where Iceland is (=between Greenland, Ireland and Norway), what the Icelandic for ‘volcano’ is (=volcano, ha!), and that if you give a child a pencil and paper they can do wondrous things.

Naturally, our family-friendly take on the country involved a LOT of scissors, glue, paint and newspaper. This was the beautiful result!

iceland I was not a little proud of my papier-mâché night-before contribution..iceland3

..now complete with lava flows (no ash cloud though).iceland2

Pangolin Potato Prints

This morning I made Christmas cards. I decided that I wanted to make cards this year, but for it to be fun, as opposed to a lot of time fretting over them. So the answer.. printing.. specifically, potato printing!

I made this little drawing as my starting point, based on a postcard I bought at the British Library exhibition. I thought the idea of a Christmas tree coming to life as a pangolin would be fun – these creatures do look a little bit like pine cones after all.

I got the longest potato in the cupboard and cut it in half. A basic error I made with my previous (and first) printing attempt was not cutting the potato very straight, making the surface of the print uneven. So, cut it straight, with a sharp knife in one motion. Ninja style if you can. (I can’t)

Then, I drew the pangolin outline onto a piece of paper, exactly the size I wanted to print. I used thin-ish paper, so the outline showed through when turned over. I transferred the drawing to the potato by turning the piece of paper over, putting it on the cut surface of the potato and pricking the outline through with a pin. When I took the paper off again, the pinpricks were barely visible, so I used a paintbrush to apply a thin wash of colour to the potato cut surface to ‘bring out’ the design.

I then used a scalpel to cut out the outline and cut away a layer of potato from the edge. This bit’s fiddly, and worth taking time over. You need to make sure there are no little pieces left in the gaps, because these will accumulate paint, giving a smudgy outline. Details of eyes, nose and scales were done just by making cuts, not by lifting any pieces out – potato prints can give a surprising amount of detail.

Then, I printed onto the cards, playing around with pangolin placement.

Next, some colour in the shape of some baubles, a star, and a Xmas tree bucket.

Finished! Well, apart from the finishing touch, with the glitter glue. Trust me, it’ll work.

A visit to the British Library

On Sunday we went to see Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at the British Library.

The dozens of vivid, excruciatingly finely detailed miniature paintings on display would have originally been made only for the eyes of a select few at the royal court. Which is why it’s all the more special to see them today, along with thousands of other visitors (although it wasn’t that busy when we were there!).

I particularly liked one eighteenth-century painting of a pangolin by Shaikh Zain al-Din.

It inspired a (slightly less) lavish idea for homemade pangolin Xmas cards. Stay tuned..

Train journey

At the weekend Sayed and I went to visit friends in Exeter. We had a great time there, visiting the beach, playing and singing with their sweet little boy. But, I have to say, one of my favourite bits was our productive three-hour train journey there, me knitting, Sayed drawing. Here are a few photos.

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1. New fairisle glove project. 2. & 3. Knitting. 4. One messy train table. 5. One talented illustrator (and photographer). 6. Sporting his new jumper. 7. Beautiful light on a fresh drawing.

Mrs. Morris and the Wombat

I’ve recently been doing some research on Jane Morris. She was named Jane Burden before she married William Morris, the poet and designer craftsman, and she modeled for many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s drawings and paintings. Her features have come to represent the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite female beauty, and might look familiar from the posters for the current Tate Britain exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avante-Gardes.

I was bemused/ amused to come across this less-well known drawing by Rossetti of her with  …a wombat.

Rossetti had an ongoing fascination with wombats, and even kept one as a pet. The drawing was made after the death of ‘Top’ the wombat and Rossetti clearly laments its passing in the accompanying poem, which also seems to be a reference to his love for Jane:

Parted Love!

Oh! how the family affections combat

Within this heart; and each hour flings a bomb at

My burning soul; neither from owl nor from bat

Can peace be gained, until I clasp my Wombat.

More information about both drawing and poem can be found on the Rossetti Archive website.

Top the wombat was also a Pre-Raphaelite muse for William Bell Scott, in this drawing now in the Tate Collection.