Was yesterday’s life session at Redbrick as nervy and unsettled as it seemed to me, or have I been overtaken by the national mood as we slide, like so much wet fish, into this portentous week? As a group that largely, and commendably, suspends the tyranny of the mobile phone whilst we draw and paint, we were blissfully unaware that we had, at 8.34am, taken a collective step back from the throne, as little miss Cambridge elbowed her way to the front rank; and not for the food bank. Not her fault of course, but enough to confuse any sentient being.
The weekend’s big sporting event, putting aside the $300m scrap in Las Vegas, offered a more egalitarian introduction to the final days of the election race, as Day One of the Tour de Yorkshire breezed effortlessly over Wolds and Moors beneath a vast blue sky ; cheered by good-humoured groups of pensioners at each village and hamlet. The bunting was sparser and the crowds only a fraction of the previous year, but this felt like Yorkshire, and the brief escape from politics was very welcome. Whilst we were painting, Day Two, appears to have been rather more like The Grand Depart, and as I write, Day Three sees God’s own County baring it’s teeth as cold rain slicks the cobbles in Haworth and none of the peleton will be stopping for an ice cream at the top of Holme Moss. No doubt the finish will be thrilling, but it’s hard to maintain the optimism of Friday.
The race concludes in Leeds, our commercial hub and my home city. A city of which it has been difficult to be proud over recent years, but it’s solid citizens, with the help of the BBC, elevated the election hustings to a significant level at Thursday’s Question Time . This campaign has been stultified by the constant repetition of practiced evasion of a small number of policy questions, but the Leeds audience accurately articulated the nation’s dissatisfaction with the politicians’ lack of moral fibre. All three leaders were exposed , with only Miliband having the Balls to deny culpability. Unfortunately, the programme format and limited airtime would not allow the development of these searching questions and the miscreants escaped to confuse more audiences before the vote.
The truth is that this election is a lucky (or unlucky) dip, and the politicians’ mock faith in the nation’s will is about to be exposed as the nation’s utter confusion. On the basis of the tightening grid of “red lines” the only workable coalition will pair UKIP with the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Despite the stately presence of Becky , motionless on our studio throne, I found it hard to focus on a plan which would fairly reward this hard-working artist, and I “wasted” at least half of the day skipping around the painting without actually making any improvement. My eventual “top-down” reorganisation proved costly and demoralising and I was forced to offer my resignation at about 15.34pm. I noticed last evening that it had not made even the local news.
Around the studio, others exhibited their own preoccupation with the coming election; Jane, in a commendable attempt to remain even-handed, had rendered Becky’s head and shoulders in the several official party colours, and her analysis of a “muddy” area between the ears seemed appropriate. Sandra and Sue, representing the “squeezed centre” had denied themselves even a glance to right or left, whilst Chris freely admitted that he really wanted to give greater priority to the right; excellent work all round, despite the blinkers. Tom, at number 50,367,988 in the line of succession, despite having painted the Infanta’s grandfather, attempted to get Becky to look to her left, but was shouted down by the Redbrick 1922 Committee and could only express his frustration by refusing to use blue paint. Hadyn indicated a surprising leaning toward the Greens but was even more distracted by his football team’s abandoned match at Blackpool where there were more donkeys on the pitch than on the beach.
The SNP was not represented in the studio as Jerry was busy preparing his house for sale in anticipation of being given the bum’s rush by the residents of the rolling blue acres of Wharfedale when Alex Salmond marches into Westminster. The numerous scenarios are such that it will be impossible to settle again until it is all over, for now, and with that in mind, I suggest an all-night sitting next Thursday to see how the actual results affect the work?
Paintings and drawings by Chris, Dick, Haydn, Jackie, Jane, Mati, Russell, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom and Tony.
I was cream crackered, shattered, washed out and weary, my legs felt like jelly and my arms like spaghetti, banjaxed I was a shadow of my former self, a weakling, a mere stripling, my bulk masking the limpness of my soul, the last thing I wanted to do was life drawing.... and yet with my head hammering and hands trembling, legs aflame and ankles aching, I ploughed onwards, first one mark reluctantly followed by another, then a few more, slowly, slowly the flame spluttered into life, energy returned, first frustration and then enthusiasm, I might actually make something of this. Joseph has a twitch and suddenly the metronome of that flickering cheek becomes the rhythm of my hand holding a tremulous brush, stab, dab, mix and parry, the colours are smeared and smudged each piling one on top of the other, cancellations and revisions, how can one cheek hold so many challenges, up and down it flows, in and out the incremental changes model the nervous terrain and gradually a synonym of Joseph appears, it looks right but it's not right so the duel continues cheek to jowl until finally the merciless clock calls time gentleman please and once more I slump absolutely cream crackered.
Hadyn provides a master class in the drawing of an arm in perspective, economy of line and delicate modelling, it's a really lovely drawing in my opinion
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Cathy, Dick, Ian, Isi, Ivan, Mati, Roger, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Hadyn.
There has been a seismic shift in the life room, a velvet revolution and I can pinpoint the exact moment it arrived. Watching the SkyArts, ‘Portrait Artist of the Year Award’ one of the contestants silently slipped out their i-pad and began taking photographs, no word was spoken and then quite shockingly they placed the i-pad next to the canvas and quite simply began to copy the photograph, the live model was now all but redundant. I think there was an audible gasp across the country as artists nationwide witnessed this blatant breach of one of the fundamental pacts between artist and model. The pact can be summarised as, ‘I will remain very still and you will record me to the best of your abilities’. This elemental agreement forged through centuries of art making was now broken, the model had become merely a temporary vehicle, a convenience to be referred to now and again instead of the lodestone forged in the crucible of ferocious looking and passionate recording.
So now we have to think, what of the classics, the squinting and measuring, the thumb assiduously sliding up and down the beleaguered pencil like a deranged slide rule, the huffing and puffing as line after frustrating line was rubbed out to eventually create a glistening patina, a delicate palimpsest of fragile dots, dashes, scribbles and scuffs, marks plotting a unique journey of discovery. Knowledge hard won, the life room used to be the sacred space in which you joined that select club of those who could draw stretching back centuries. You were communing with the ancients, touching the hem of Rembrandt, grasping the sleeve of Michelangelo, walking hand in hand with Leonardo, quite literally in the footsteps of giants. The life room was one of the few places left where past practices barely unchanged for centuries informed the present. When Michelangelo picked up a piece of chalk and drew a reclining man in order study the alignment of muscle, bone and limbs so as to better understand his figure of the Libyan Sybil whilst painting the Sistine Chapel he was using life drawing to inform his practice. When Ingres was looking to inject authenticity into his sensuous tondo of the Turkish Bath he drew from the model incessantly having her twist and contort to realise the full extent of his erotic dreams. For generations the model / artist relationship has been sacrosanct but now there is an insidious interloper, the i-pad.
I feel something of a hypocrite, as the Americans say, I’m conflicted. I love technology, I accept shortcuts, I can see how for some the use of the i-pad has made a tremendous difference, giving confidence, allowing more time for detail, supporting failing eyes, I use binoculars for heaven’s sake, so what’s the difference I hear you say. I suppose it’s the shift in priority from working drawing to finished piece. I always thought the life room was a place of study, an experimental space but now it appears to be drifting towards a place of finished goods. The completed, resolved piece seems to be in the ascendency and I’m worried that experimentation, individuality and downright eccentricity will be downgraded, basically I’m worried we’ll stop learning and having the confidence to express ourselves as individuals.
Let’s hear some opinions on this issue, I want to hear your voice, i-pads in the life room, good or bad and more importantly why? Use the comments link below to share your views.
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Jane S, Jane, Judi, Sue, Tom, Tony and selected artist Hadyn.