Faces and bodies

Clinton by Nicole Fahri (A5 pencil and watercolour 2019)

I recently visited Thomas Gainsborough’s house in Sudbury, now a museum with a delightful small garden, to see an exhibition of sculpture by Nicole Farhi.

In case you don’t know, Ms Farhi was a successful fashion designer who began her professional career with French Connection but went on to found, and later sell, her own label. Mentored by the sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi (“He is in my soul, I still hear him”), she began to sculpt in her own right, something which she now does full-time.

One of my favourite blogs here on WordPress is The Sculptor’s Wife. Written by Tamsin, the partner of Sam Shendi, it details the trials and achievements of a successful artist through the eyes of his wife, along with her own attempts to draw and write while bringing up a young family. In one post, she quotes someone saying that sculpture is “the thing you bump into when you step back to look at a painting” – I’m ashamed to admit that has often been my view.

Nicole Farhi’s work is wonderfully tactile: knobbly heads of friends and celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, the wide expressive hand of Paolozzi, the eggshell-smooth expressive arm of a dancer. Resisting the urge to touch and feel, I could have spent hours in that room – and I’m sure I’ll return before the exhibition closes in June. My friend and I both stood in front of our favourite pieces and explored their intriguing contours by drawing them in pencil in our sketchbooks (mine is above). It was wonderful, inspiring work to see and contemplate on an unseasonably warm February afternoon in Suffolk.

Faces and bodies have occupied me for the past few weeks. Most Wednesday evenings I attend Annabel Mednick‘s life drawing classes in Ipswich. They are a fascinating collaboration with her model, Blue King, and cruising is not an option. Close observation and energetic mark-making are the order of the evening: Annabel pushes you out of the secure womb of your comfort zone into the world of taking chances. Two years ago I told her I wanted to draw more loosely, more freely, less prettily, and over the past few weeks I finally feel I’m getting there. It has taken that long to summon the courage to let go and not feel I’ve failed if I haven’t produced something you might want to hang on a wall.

Gestural drawing of Blue King (A2 charcoal on lining paper 2019)

I realised last week, standing in front of a particularly engaging head by Ms Fahri, that what I was trying to do was to achieve in charcoal and paper something of the energy that she teased out of clay and bronze: “I talk to the to the clay, and eventually a recognisable form emerges… It’s a miracle!” In my own small way, I think I’m getting there.

23 thoughts on “Faces and bodies

  1. These are so inspiring, Michael. I always love the way you mix watercolor and pencil or ink. It’s a technique I keep meaning to play with myself. I love your gesture drawing. We have done those a few times in the drawing class I am now taking. Our model on Monday’s class was fascinating. I see so much movement in your charcoal drawing. Your art is so wonderful, as always.

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  2. Sometimes there seems to be a real dichotomy between energy and perfection, or between the life force and well, pride. I’m glad you’re getting there, gives me hope! (I sense a lack of life, energy or emotion in my photo sometimes and always equate it with a too-considered approach. But it’s hard to be spontaneous with the camera!). Another great post, thank you.

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    • I wish I knew how one gets beyond the ‘too considered approach’ – with me it seems to be happening now after years of trying. I suppose I’m simply more content with less precise paintings and fewer lines in drawings. How that would translate into photography I’m not sure: doing more spontaneous shots perhaps? I’d love to know.

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      • I think you’re right – shooting more spontaneously can be a good way to loosen up and get more freshness into the work. Likewise, shooting with different lenses, in odd places, etc.

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  3. I love drawing sculpture as well, although I haven’t been out and about to do it lately.
    I envy you your life drawing class! I haven’t been for 40 years now. Perhaps when this current unsettledness figures itself out…
    Your lines always have life, loose or more restrained. (K)

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  4. “I wanted to draw more loosely, more freely, less prettily.”

    My wife and I have noticed how many American films and photos will glorify aspects of everyday life (sex in particular, but food as well). When we watch a foreign film, however, what is glorified here is often seen as warts-and-all somewhere else.

    This is a generalization, of course. But I think one difference is that one artist’s “possession” — the result of cruising — is another person’s life model.

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