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Shout it from the rooftops; drawing is back!

Having been out of fashion and overlooked for several decades, perhaps not by artists but certainly by art schools and art dealers, drawing is once more being celebrated for its role at the heart of artistic practice.

Drawing is what makes art “tick”. It “includes three and a half quarters of the content of painting…drawing contains everything, except the hue” declared Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. In other words, its importance cannot be overstressed. This weekend’s Draw Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London is the first of its kind in the UK. Dedicated to modern and contemporary drawing, its aim is to encourage people to look at drawings “as more than pencil on paper”. And to ask the question “what is drawing in the digital age?”, says the Fair’s strategic director Jill Silverman van Coenegratchts.

“Less like a shopping mall, more like a museum”

Although the focus is on drawing, exhibitors were able to include related sculptures, paintings, photos, videos, providing the drawings were 70% of their offering. Undoubtedly, the 50 odd galleries were there to sell but the fair was intended to be more like a curated event. Jill Silverman van Coenegratchts  “[the aim is] to create a space that feels less like a shopping mall, more like a museum”.

Draw Art Fair certainly offers a comprehensive look at drawing in all its aspects. The works of modern masters like Matisse, Kandinsky, Cocteau, Picasso, Moore are featured alongside contemporary artists such as Irene Lees. Lees extraordinary hand-written, researched “artwork-essay” drawings are certainly like nothing I have seen before. Click here to view them on the Candida Stevens gallery website.

Draw Art Fair also features drawing-performance events such as Harald Smykla’s Movie Protocols – pictographic shorthand notation of films (utterly fabulous in my opinion!) and Simon Heijdens’s laser driven Water Drawings.

And alongside the individual gallery offerings, exhibits from international collections including an exhibition of drawings and sculptures by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi brought to my mind the work of local Suffolk sculptor Bernard Reynolds, who was also an accomplished artist and draughtsman.

Colin Moss’s own views on the importance of drawing came from his rigorous art school training in the 1930s. Then, students covered life drawing, antique drawing, figure composition and measured perspective. The demanding Board of Education Drawing Exam was, for Colin, “a wonderful sort of basic grammar [and] was the basis of everything I’ve ever done since” (see below).

And this belief in the primacy of drawing was passed onto his students:

Here’s to next year?

So let’s hope the Saatchi Gallery’s Drawing Art Fair is not a one-off and that drawing is back in the limelight, where it belongs. For those unable to get to the fair this weekend, all the work is being shown on Artsy. To  find all the related info and articles, click here. And do read Laura Cumming’s in-depth article from April’s Guardian on the absolute enduring joy of drawing.

Kiss & Tell about Plaster Casts

When Colin Moss was training at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, drawing was an integral part of his education – and intensively taught. His Board of Education Drawing Examination was, in his words, ‘very difficult indeed’. One test involved drawing a figure in action as a skeleton and a muscle figure, showing all the bones and muscles. He also had to do a life drawing from memory.

It’s entirely possible that his study included drawing plaster casts, which had some advantages over drawing from life. Shadows, for example, were still present, but the white plaster made it easier to recognise them and to experiment with tones. Which may be why Colin was using them at the Ipswich Art School in 1978. By then exercises like this had rather fallen out of fashion.

“I was doing a project on anatomy with my students and the somewhat damaged casts were all we had… I had to do a lot of drawing of these casts in teaching these kids to draw.”

Inspiration

Colin completed the project, but became fascinated by the casts themselves. The head of one had broken off, so he put it near the figure, on the ground, and started drawing it. At which point one of his students brought in a book full of photographs taken during the First World War. And inspiration struck.

“I looked at them and thought ‘What an amazing piece of surrealism to put these casts into the battlefield…’ You can see the shells exploding in the air and so on, and it all came together as a complete idea. I didn’t set out with the concrete idea in my mind, it grew as the thing developed.’

 

Colin Moss “Anatomical Casts on a Battlefield” 1978 Pencil 76.5 cm x 56 cm
Colchester & Ipswich Museums

Restoring the art school’s plaster casts

As part of the ongoing Kiss & Tell exhibition, Ipswich Museums and Galleries have restored two of the old Ipswich Art School’s plaster casts – the Bruges Madonna (pictured below) and Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo. The conservation process for the Madonna began with a series of photographs to record the state of the cast before restoration. The work involved cleaning the surface, replacing essential missing parts, repainting the piece and then waxing it.

The restorers used melamine sponges, warm distilled water and conservation grade mild detergent to clean the cast. As expected, this revealed a considerable amount of detail, but there had also been much damage over time. After sealing any open edges with a solution of PVA glue in water, they used dental wax to control the plaster fills, modelling them using coarse sandpaper and then smoothing them with flexi grit paper before finishing with Polyfilla. After sealing the casts with the PVA/water solution they painted it with chalk paint, allowing the plaster to breathe, and finished it with a final coat of wax. You can read a detailed account of the process here.

Kiss & Tell at Christchurch Mansion

The exhibition itself is devoted to works of art showing the human body in its natural state and in movement. With Auguste Rodin’s iconic The Kiss as the star attraction, it also includes works by Suffolk sculptors including Thomas Woolner, RA (a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who was born in Hadleigh) and Maggi Hambling CBE, who trained under Colin at the Ipswich School of Art.

One of Colin’s paintings –  ‘Standing Nude’ (1969) – is on display alongside works by artists such as Constable, Blake and Picasso.

The exhibition, reviewed here continues until 28 April 2019

Ipswich cinema through the lens of an artist

Cinema in Ipswich

Post war Ipswich had five main cinema buildings, some of which were purpose built, plus several halls and theatres which regularly showed films. Few people owned a television and so The Gaumont in St Helen’s Street (now known as The Regent Theatre) would be packed with people who wanted to be entertained and informed.

As well as the main film, there would be a supporting (or B film) plus a news reel from Pathe News. Smoking was permitted everywhere in the auditorium.

Colin Moss, The Gaumont Cinema Audience, 1948Colin Moss, The Gaumont Cinema Audience, 1948

The cinema goers of Ipswich in person

“This painting records a different kind of absorption: that of a weary, ration-fed audience in silver screen fantasy. Three or four bodies are picked out in profile by the projector’s reflected light, slouching down, expressionless. There’s nothing to say about them, no more than about the out-of-focus crowd behind them. They are self-contained, fixated on the same thing. Captivated in isolation, glued to the screen.” The Junket.

Today in Ipswich, the Regent occupies the site of the Gaumont Cinema and is, instead, a performance arts theatre which hosts a multitude of shows and events each year. It has been recently refurbished and seats up to 1,551 people.

The interior of the Regent today

Colin’s influences

Talking about this painting to Chloe Bennett in the early 1990s, Colin talked about his influences at this time. “I had come across Daumier’s work in the V&A as a student and I acquired a big illustrated book about him in 1941 … His beer drinkers, smokers and theatre audiences probably had some influence on me … I used to go to the cinema a lot. Of course everybody smoked in cinemas in those days, there was a thick haze of tobacco smoke…” Colin Moss: Life Observed.

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was a French painter, caricaturist and draughtsman whose work often reflected upon the social political conditions of 19th century France. Daumier’s caricatures often mocked the social conventions of the French middle class and also the incompetency of the French Government. Daumier contributed to the journal Le Charivari for many years and arguably his most controversial lithograph was his depiction of the French king Louis Phillippe “Gargantua” – for this he was imprisoned for six months. In his later career, Daumier was one of the pioneers of realist subjects which probably explains why Colin was so interested in him.

Honoré Daumier, Gargantua, 1831

 

Ipswich Cattle Market: Then and Now

For many years, Tuesday was market day in Ipswich. The thriving livestock market saw cattle, sheep and pigs being auctioned. The streets surrounding the market area thronged with people and the numerous pubs in the area (now all closed) did a roaring trade on market day.

The Tithe gift sale at the Ipswich Cattle Market (photo by David Kindred )

Cattle Drovers

The men who worked with the livestock had a tough job. The work was hard and the conditions often unpleasant. Colin’s 1956 pastel “Cattle Drovers” depicts two cattle drovers whose job it was to drive the livestock down Princes Street, from the railhead near Princes Street bridge, towards the livestock market in Portman Road.

Colin Moss Cattle Drovers 1956Colin Moss “Cattle Drovers” 1956

“Lots of people in the period after the war, and who’d been in National Service, wore clothes they’d got in the army as uniform because clothing was rationed. One of them is wearing an ex-army greatcoat. A lot of people used to wear these gumboots with socks that came over the top of them. These men are quite typical of working men at that time. No man went about bareheaded in the street”. Colin Moss: Life Observed

From Jarrow to Ipswich

Twenty years earlier, whilst a young student at the Royal College of Art, Colin had seen the Jarrow Hunger Marchers as they walked through London. His 1936 painting “Hunger Marchers” was the first of many images he produced throughout his long career depicting ordinary men and women.  “I like to draw working-class people because they are more interesting than middle-class people”. Colin Moss: Life Observed

Colin Moss Hunger Marches 1936 Colin Moss “Hunger Marchers” 1936

The End of the Cattle Market

The cattle market was part of Ipswich’s history for centuries. Its location changed several times over the years as the town expanded. In 1856 the cattle market moved to its final site on (what was then) the town marshes, the area which is now between Portman Road and Princes Street. The last livestock market was held in the town in January 1985.

 

How do you Camouflage a Power Station?

Design and deception in World War Two

At the start of the war, the Germans already knew where many of Britain’s important industrial targets were situated. The aim of the camoufleurs was to “confuse a pilot at a minimum of 5 miles distant and 5,000 feet up during daylight.” (Ministry of Home Security).

Camouflage officer Robin Darwin wrote in 1943 “the bomb aimer must rely on what he sees with his eyes and a moment’s doubt, the slightest hesitation may send his bomb far wide of the mark.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Stonebridge power station - composite imageStonebridge Park Power Station with camouflage

Initial Planning

All the work done by the camoufleurs came from the initial observations and jottings. These were made by the model designers when they flew over installations that were to be camouflaged.  Their work was vital to the camoufleurs. It meant they had the most accurate representations of how the buildings and their surroundings looked from the air.

Baginton Aerodrome

The pilots were from the RAF photo unit based at Baginton aerodrome in Coventry. The pilots were often too old for operational service, but had a great deal of experience in the air. This meant the designers could make notes at all the different heights and times of day that they required. These notes and photographs were then used by the camoufleurs to develop perspective drawings of the proposed camouflage schemes.

Baginton aerodrome Baginton Aerodrome Dec 1940

The Rink

The more complex camouflage schemes were tested on scale models in the Rink in Lemington Spa. Requisitioned by the government in 1939, the (Skating) Rink was located at the bottom of the Parade in Leamington.

As Colin explained many years later to his biographer, Chloe Bennett “You worked on a scale model and … there was a turn-table which you could put it on and a moving light, which represented the sun, and you got up on a platform, which was about the height that a bombing pilot would come in at, and turn the thing around to see how it reacted to different times of day.”

The turntable - Colin MossColin Moss “The Turntable in the Skating Rink, Leamington Spa, 1939-40”

Virginia Ironside (daughter of camoufleur Christopher Ironside) memorably described the Rink as “a giant studio” where “artists slaved away over enormous turntables on which they had constructed models of factories and aerodromes, lit by ever moving moons and suns attached to wires”.

Edwin La Dell “The Camouflage Workshop, Leamington Spa, 1940”

“The work in the Roller Skating Rink was supported by the presence of a map section and photographic archive. Staff used expensive, high-quality (German made!) Leica cameras on tripods to take photographs of the models before and after camouflage had been applied.” Concealment and Deception, The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945.

Once the camouflage design was finalised, the model, along with colour charts showing the tints of paint to be used, was sent to the site. Ground patterning was applied first.  Then representations of buildings in an overall disruptive pattern of dark and light shapes (that masked the entire area) were added.

The brushes the painters used consisted of rope, bound together by scrap tin to allow the painter to cover a large area with one stroke. There was an emphasis on practicality rather than finesse and not wasting materials; hence the use of scrap tin. The simple equipment allowed painters to work quickly, often able to cover 110 square metres a day.

Camouflage Scheme in Progress - Colin MossColin Moss “Camouflage Scheme in Progress”

Ipswich Docks – Then and Now through the artist’s lens

The docks area of Ipswich has been used for trade for well over a 1000 years. When Colin started teaching at the Ipswich Art School in the late 1940s, the dock had yet to transform into the stylish waterfront we see today. The commercial landscape, with its wharves and warehouses, proved to be a source of inspiration for both Colin and his students.

“I used to think the Docks were the best thing about Ipswich. I used to take a lot of sketching classes of students down to the Docks, and in those days they were far more free and easy about where you could go there.” Colin Moss: Life Observed.

Colin Moss - Ipswich from the New CutColin Moss “Ipswich from the New Cut” (1950)

Yeast and Sugar Beet

Judy Foster, one of Colin’s students between 1955 and 1959, was similarly impressed. She particularly remembers “a peculiar kind of smell from the Docks, the yeast … the maltings and the sugar beet which wafted one way or another, depending on the direction of the wind.”

Colin Moss - Ipswich docksColin Moss “Ipswich Docks” (c1950-55)

A European Sensibility

“What made Colin special was that he brought a European sensibility to local art. He studied with Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg, Austria and absorbed his very colourful view of the world. When he returned to Suffolk, he produced a series of local landscapes including views of Ipswich Docks which he executed in a very strong, vibrant style. The local people hated it – he painted these pictures in strong pinks and purples, not all the colours he was seeing – but this was the influence of Oskar Kokoschka.” Tony Coe – John Russell Gallery, Ipswich

The Waterfront Today

Over the past two decades, Ipswich’s waterfront has been transformed. Now a stylish area of restaurants, shops and apartments, and with a thriving marina, buildings from the waterfront’s rich maritime past, sit alongside developments from the new.

Ipswich waterfront today - Michael JollyIpswich Waterfront today – photography Michael Jolly