The Massacre of the Innocents and Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: a Play for Gaza / 25 May 2009
The repose of sleep refreshes only the body…In the morning we must sweep out the shadows - Gaston Bachelard
I established that Rubens 'The Massacre of the Innocents' was on loan from the National Gallery to the Art Gallery of Ontario until June 09, and realized therefore
that my initial proposal to explore this artwork here in London would have to be more 'imaginative' than I had originally intended! As is often the case, however, when one is required to shift perspective, one starts a journey which is far more far-reaching and can sometimes bring about a more profound insight.
My early disappointment at the cancellation of Momentum09 was supplanted by an invitation to play the role of artist in Residence for the International Theatre Symposium, and another opportunity to capture dynamic theatre.
Coincidentally Caryl Churchill's play 'Seven Jewish Children: a Play for Gaza' was also going to be performed as a rehearsed reading during this Symposium. I previously saw Churchill's play performed at the Royal Court - a profound piece of theatre, lasting just 10 minutes but written with extraordinary poetry. The play is significantly controversial and has managed to ignite a far reaching International debate regarding Middle Eastern politics and the relationships between the Jewish and Moslem communities worldwide. The overriding message of the play spoke of individual as well as universal responsibility, where the plight of the forsaken should never be ignored. The experience of watching the performance and the observation of the controversy that arose from this particular interpretation of the subject, clarified for me how important it is for creative practitioners to attempt to explore complicated subjects as a means of holding up a mirror to our complicated society.
Initially I spent studio time drawing directly from photographic references of 'The Massacre of the Innocents' painting from the National Gallery's catalogue 'Rubens A Master in the Making'. This process familiarized me with this subject, but I also used it as an exercise to explore how interlocking figures can be amalgamated into a composition to augment dramatic energetic narratives. This investigation served as the foundation and starting point for the first large drawing at the Bruford Symposium.
The Rose Bruford Theatre College International Symposium brought theatre practitioners from around the Globe to perform, facilitate improvised workshops with the student's and through forums discussions share and challenge their individual theatrical methodologies. The atmosphere for the week was electric, heightening the sense of expectation as the magical expression began to unfold. I was invited to join any of the events to artistically capture the dramatic spectacles as they unfolded. The Spanish Director Antonio Diaz Zamora's improvised workshop using the supernatural in Valle-Incan's 'Divine Words', a village tragicomedy, 'Mari - Gaila and the Goat Goblin, Act 2 scene 8' was a highlight.
Fantasy deserted by reason produces impossible monsters: united with it, fantasy is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders
Imagery from The Disparates by Goya depicting the folly of mankind - including scenes of witchcraft and war, grotesque carnival festivities and monstrously deformed creatures (the prints were produced between 1816 and 1824 - a time of political unrest and social turbulence), were shown to the acting students to stimulate characterisation and to give them a sense of a world beyond reality. As an artist this was a tremendous starting point, a focus particular because Goya's artwork has always been a major inspiration for my own work, and from where I was able to quickly establish and create a landscape from where my own narrative could emerge.
The opportunity to experience extraordinary energy and emotion as the actors improvised and recreated the text was tremendous. My own drawn imagery flooded onto the page at a rapid pace igniting the artwork and enabling me to create the imagery which emerged from my subconscious. After this session the drawings were taking back to my studio at the college where I used them to create 2 larger drawing/painting (approx 1.5m x 3m). The four days spent at the Symposium were full of equally dynamic sessions of rapid capture drawing and then longer sustain drawing on larger panels using the initial imagery. This process enables dynamic imagery to be created where the heightened emotion and theatrical experience become trapped within the soul of the artwork.
Additional spectacular workshops included Echo by Theatre Melange which brought together Physical theatre and design to create a dynamic living landscape, and Deambulation where the boundaries between stage performance and installation were explored by 8 Bottes Jaunes a French theatre/art collective based in Lectoure based in the South of France
The opportunity to draw during 5 performances of staged productions and a play reading added to the overall experience. The reading of Churchill's play during the Symposium brought added drama, as has become expected during the play's short Global life, but it was thrilling to be able to capture through the responsive medium of drawing the audience's heated political arguments was thrilling. These drawings remain a reminder of how important national and religious identity is sometimes perceived.
The disparate elements of Ruben's 'The Massacre of the Innocents' painting, the 'Churchill play' and the 'Bruford Symposium' have left me with much to consider and an array of dynamic strong narrative drawings, enabling me to now launch into a comprehensive series of paintings that will perhaps unravel a layer drawing me a little closer to an understanding of what it is to be human.
When I initially applied for the Momentum Bursary, I expected a Global journey, but instead I have had a theatrical experience, and in time I will look forward to exhibiting a series of works of art which will capture the magical metaphorical universal experience I have been lucky to witness.
Keywords: visual art