Friday, 10 June 2016

Senate House exhibition: evading the issue

Dr Judith Townend of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, who kindly invited me to exhibit some law-based pictures in Senate House, asks the following:

How did you select the drawings? 

First, they had to go with the tawny yellow Travertine walls. Then I went for variety.


Which ones were created especially for this exhibition? 

I'd already drawn a QC in chambers doing an intense yoga routine. I don't own the originals so I framed two digital reproductions, about half actual size. (These are not to be confused with prints.) This is a terrible sin as such reproductions look dull compared with originals, but I wanted the QC's physicality to be part of the show.


I created a large drawing of a barrister for a particular space. The vulnerability of the work - unframed paper - reflects that of the subject.


Senate House is a mysterious machine. My best discovery there is the magical realm of music and gadgets run by Hannah Thompson, the Leverhulme-funded Senate House Library sound artist in residence [left].  

Can you explain a bit more about the rope work?

The exhibition space is a hectic accretion of furniture, recycling bins, red rugs and signage. Framed drawings would have to fight for attention. But how? 

The first thing that caught my eye was jute - upholstery bands trailing from two broken benches. I decided to reflect the falling jute with jute climbing the wall. The tension of the rope would reflect the tension of the courtroom. Fred Hatt and Anna Bones of Anatomie Studio kindly installed a taut trail of rope and pink legal tape by the most physical group of drawings (the yoga QC and the Naked Rambler).

My plan was then exploded. I'd thrown such a tantrum about the state of the benches that they've been repaired. The power has now gone to my head.

What are people’s reactions to your in-court/about law sketching? Do they vary between lawyers or non-lawyers? 

When I'm drawing in the public seats of the Supreme Court, reactions fall roughly into these categories:

'Did you draw me?'

'I just love your work.' (Thank you, Dean.)

'Where are the toilets?' 

'Who's going to win?' Not my field, hunny. But if you're trying to interpret the body language of the justices, be careful. There's a difference between the performance of counsel and the undertow of judgment.

Not many counsel ask, 'Can you see my best side?' Even if they notice me through the blur of Supreme Court nerves, I think they twig that I'm not there to depict Action Person Top QC.

Non-lawyers say, 'Your other blog is better.'

Are you motivated by the notion of bringing the public more closely into contact with law and legal processes (as I am) or do you have another motive for choosing legal settings/themes? 

I like live drawing (not the same as life drawing) - depicting the passing scene, almost as part of it. If you do it in the street, people want to talk to you. Sometimes I'm up for that. But during a court hearing, they can't. Good.

I was once on an after-hours tour of the Old Bailey when some people thought it would be a lark to climb into the dock and giggle a bit. They were solicitors. As I don't have the carapace of legal training, I was shocked - the dock is a numinous space and there but for the grace of God, etcetera - anyone who drives a car, for example, could end up there. Lawyers would dismiss that as sentimentality, but I still think that lawyers and people who administer and design courts have something to gain from reflecting about the legal process. I'm at the finger-painting end of things, though, and easily distracted by appearances. 
My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until 30 July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Thoughts on my Senate House exhibition

I'm not sure why I write about drawing in the Supreme Court (stream-of-consciousness posts here) but it probably occupies some dodgy hinterland between discipline, hobby and eccentricity. 

And I couldn't whip out a sheet of Canson Mi-Teintes on these lofty premises if I hadn't been toughened up by drawing in the mud and snow of Occupy's tragicomic protest camps.

I sit in the public seats. I see what you see. There’s plenty of law, but I leave that to the professionals. Drawing materials have to be small, non-spillable and quiet (you can make quite a racket dragging chalk across paper). 

I’m probably too fond of the Kuretake Little Red Gift Set; the water is safely confined in a plastic brush pen. 

I draw small because of the constraints. But there’s a wall in Senate House asking for something big, maybe cartoonish. And vulnerable.

I go to the wholesalers, John Purcell Paper, and get a roll of white paper nearly my height for about sixteen quid. 

I cut some off and crease it by accident. To make it look deliberate I crush the whole sheet. To avert snow blindness I paint it with tea. 


I draw a distillation of a QC I saw at PMS International Limited v Magmatic Limited. I use sheep’s wool dipped in ink which is handy if you want to be big and fast - as when drawing the pole performer Ayumi LaNoire in kimono.  

I include a nod to the Supreme Court emblem, which incorporates the letter omega (it’s your last stop before Europe), Libra (the scales of justice), the Tudor rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the flax flower of Northern Ireland and the leaves of the Welsh leek. I omit the green – I don't want too many colours. For the flowers I use acrylic ink because I've forgotten how much I dislike its insolent opacity.


This time, instead of a single seat in the court, I have a whole kitchen table - from Luke Hughes’s ready-to-wear range in the days before he got to design the woodwork in the Supreme Court.

And guess what - my picture turns out to be legally useful. I am secretly thrilled. 

My friend Hubert is going to use it in a law lecture, to illustrate the difference between copyright and design right: 'Copyright protects "the expression of an author's intellectual creation" whereas the design right protects "the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation" (where a "product" is "any industrial or handicraft item, including parts intended to be assembled into a complex product, packaging, get-up, graphic symbols and typographic typefaces, but excluding computer programs").'

My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until the end of July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.

Friday, 3 June 2016

More twangling instruments: Hannah Thompson's performance at Senate House Library

Whispers, waspish Vespas, Shakespeare mash-ups, blackbirds, squelches, beats, bangs, clangs, library clamour: Hannah Thompson's improvisatory soundscape of a building in flux bounces around the Dr Seng Tee Lee Centre in Senate House Library.

Hannah, the Leverhulme-funded sound artist in residence, is playing with the proportion and perspective of noise. Textures are rhythmic and rich.

Quite a lot of the sound looks like the painting with us in the room, Yellow Grid and Blue by John Edwards, 1969.

We're invited to move around to sample different sonic flavours but I'm trying to control a concertina sketchbook, the kind which spills its guts on the floor, so I stay put.

The event develops at the darkened Horse Hospital in a cobbled mews nearby, where Hannah and other musicians make electronic variations on her Senate House themes.

But after The Incident With The Deer Rifle at Bisley (no furry animals were present, and yes I was wearing ear defenders) I avoid loud noise, so I disappear during the first number. Which is a shame.  Hannah can tell you what I missed.

Hannah has open studio on Wednesdays on the fourth floor of Senate House (please check in advance). Her sound art installation goes on show in November as part of the 2016 Being Human festival. For details, please see Senate House Library and School of Advanced Study websites.


I have an exhibition of drawings in Senate House (free and open to the public in the second floor foyer) until 30 July, as part of the Institute of Legal Studies' public engagement programme which explores and promotes the humanity of law.