Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956)

I came across Frank Brangwyn through my interest in William Morris and Brangwyn’s interest in Japanese art.  Largely self-taught (though he was an apprentice to William Morris), he seemed to be able to turn his hand to anything, including design, printing, painting and drawing.  I was particularly delighted to find a book of his drawings:  Llewellyn, S and Liss, P (2015) Frank Brangwyn.  Drawings from the Collection of Father Jerome Esser.  Liss Fine Art, which contains a number of his drawings which he intended to be destroyed. Thankfully they were found and preserved.

His style is deceptively simple, yet sensitive, and effective in portraying the human figure.  He drew constantly, even compulsively (ibid. 3).  I have noted the range of drawing materials and surfaces he used: black and white chalk; pencil; black chalk and wash with red chalk highlights; charcoal and coloured chalks; red chalk only; pencil, black and beige chalk over lithograph; pencil on buff coloured tracing paper; black chalk on buff paper; The “red chalk” (and perhaps all the “chalk”) looks to be some sort of conte – red probably sanguine?  I was particularly intrigued by his use of pen and ink with scratching out on card primed with gesso, and have been trying this out in my sketchbook.  Also, some of his studies on draped clothing will be worth referring back to when I move on to Part Four of this course.

Sir Jacob Epstein: Jacob and the Angel

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays you can join a Tate Britain guide for a 15-minute talk on an artwork from the Tate collection.  April’s subject was Jacob and the Angel a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein.  I had walked past this sculpture many times but had only given it a passing glance.  As the talk was due soon I decided to wait and hear more about it.

Jacob and the Angel 1940-1 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959
Sir Jacob Epstein, Jacob and the Angel 1940–1, Tate. © The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein

Before the guide arrived I had a closer look at it in more detail so see what my initial thoughts were.  It is a large sturdy piece of sculpture of what must be two men (I know that angels are men) in what looked to me a rather amorous embrace.  Indeed, on closer inspection there were what looked like genitalia finely chiselled from one angle of the stone.  I was a little puzzled by my interpretation of what appeared to be a biblical scene, and thought that perhaps my imagination was taking me in a direction that wasn’t warranted.

The stone was beautifully marked with streaks (not sure if it is marble) that added to the flowing, sensual nature of the carving.  Dynamism was added to the piece by the bent legs of the angel supporting the exhausted (or relaxed?) Jacob.  Jacob’s over-sized hands adding to the heavy/ languorous feeling.  I was intrigued to learn more.  I then listened to the guide’s talk and made some notes.

Epstein carved from one piece of English Alabaster (gypsum) with hand tools.  An influence on Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, Epstein wanted to work mainly in stone or wood (Moore moved on to Bronze) and was influenced by primitive art rather than classical (Roman/Greek).  (My note:  The sturdiness of this piece attests to this – no finely sculpted Greek Adonis or David here)

Sir Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959) led a bohemian lifestyle and overt male sexuality was a feature of his works – which caused much controversy in his time (so not my dirty mind then!).  Other works of his include Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris (at one time covered up because it was considered obscene) and carvings at Zimbabwe House, London (also controversial because the figures appeared Indian/Asian).

Reflection:  I was ready to push aside my initial reaction that the piece was sexual because I thought that it was at odds with the era and the subject matter.  I should be ready to record any gut feelings about artworks and not be so ready to dismiss them.  Epstein was willing to push boundaries on what was considered acceptable, perhaps at a cost to him.  He stuck to what he believed in, which is to be admired. Born around the same time as Picasso, who was also influenced by African art.

Leonora Carrington

Left Britain in her 20s, settling in Mexico. A writer as well as a visual artist

Leonora Carrington:  Paintings, drawings and sculptures 1940 – 1990.  Retrospective exhibition, Serpentine Gallery, 1991.  Edited:  Andrea Schlieker.

P. 7. “pursued the marvellous and the visionary” … “throughout her long career”.

P. 8.  Egg tempera on gessoed panels – “jewel-like glow”




Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu. Untitled 2000. Ink, coloured pencil, cut paper on Mylar. 18×24″. MOMA

Julie Mehretu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1970 but was brought up from the age of 7 in the USA.  She lives and works in New York.

Her work is mainly drawing, and on a very large scale, but also in smaller prints (of which the above is an example).

Her works are densely layered, most often representing urban landscapes and maps.  Her approach is conceptual, geographical, historical, and personal.  She talks about this in the New York Times on-line article Industrial Strength in the Motor City.

Julie Mehretu. Studia II, 2004. Ink and acrylic on canvas. 272.72 x 355.92 x 5.71 cm. Carnegie Museum of Art (

What excites me most about her work is her mark-making which is free and lyrical, yet tells a story – so not entirely abstract.  I love the deliberate, yet restrained, use of colour which does not detract from the beautiful drawings but adds anchorage and depth.  Adriano Pedrosa (Dexter, 2006: 196) more eloquently (if rather hyperbolically) describes the results of her work as ‘chaotic and intoxicating, labyrinthine and carnivalesque, glorious and furious, frenetic and seductive, engulfing and vertiginous, but also anthropophagic[1].’

Her use of layers and rubbing out and re-drawing techniques are also interesting and I will reflect on further for my art practice.  (Layering was an aspect of John Piper’s work that inspired me too).  I am also intrigued by her use of transparency using Mylar (which I hadn’t heard of before).  It is a plastic polymer which can be drawn on.  Might get some!  This has already given me some ideas about drawing on tracing paper (the poor person’s Mylar?).

[1] Anthropophagic.  I had to look this up.  It means a person who eats human flesh; a cannibal.  Not really sure what he means by this in respect of Mehretu’s drawings though.  Any ideas, dear readers?

John Piper

This week at Morley drawing class we looked at the work of John Piper (1903 – 1992).

‘The Bells Go Down’ (detail) John Piper. P. 73. John Piper The Forties.

Piper was a painter, print-maker and designer of stained-glass windows.  We particularly looked at his work as a war artist in WWII, and his paintings of bombed churches.  In his time his paintings were considered as abstracted, and he was part of the abstract movement in Britain (Jenkins, John Piper The Forties P. 11.).

We were encouraged to look at his layering and mark-making in particular – both the broad brush strokes and tonal contrasts and the selective finer detail, and to note the atmosphere engendered: sombre and dramatic – but not melodramatic.

Fig 1. After John Piper. JD.

This (Fig. 1.) is my (unfinished) attempt to emulate his style.  I used brush and black ink and oil pastel on A3 cartridge paper.  I really enjoyed this exercise, particularly as we were told not to worry too much about perspective and composition but to concentrate on the variety of mark-making.  Some of the mark were made by rubbing, dry brush, ink on string and corrugated card printing.  Overall I am pleased with the results, but I will re-work this to add more layers and may even crop the paper to improve the composition.

I have played around with the image digitally to crop it and add a colour wash to show my intentions (Fig. 2.).  But I also will physically crop and add washes and detail when I have time.

Fig. 2.

I am so inspired by John Piper that I have added a book about him to my Bibliography:  Jenkins, D, F. (2000)  John Piper The Forties.  Philip Wilson Publishers.  Imperial War Museums.  I particularly like the combination of free marks combined with precision, and his use of tone contrasted with bright colour.  I look forward to reading more about him and will seek out his works.  There are a few at the Imperial War Museum in London (right next to where I play tennis – so perfect!)