Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Beginner moko jumbies find their balance

Moko jumbies - healing spirits of legend striding over the seas to follow the slave routes from Africa - are portrayed by stilt-walkers. Some of their most stupefying costumes are designed by Alan Vaughan, prize-winning artist, moko jumbie performer and coach. With his teams he is a carnival regular at Notting Hill and Port of Spain.

Performance on sticks takes bravery. Skidding on wet ground, dust or a scrap of paper can make you fall. In just a light breeze, vast sail-like costumes and complex head-dresses give unwelcome resistance and the long sticks are hard to manoeuvre.

This training weekend is for beginners on short starter sticks. The crump and clack of a body on wooden stilts hitting the tarmac is mercifully rare.

I listen to Alan gently coaxing a nervous pupil. I want him to record his soft, fluent words of reassurance, for his tone of voice as much as the content. He could get people to stop smoking with a tape like that.

'It's kind of easy but very scary at the same time.'

'Slow down!'
'He can't - he's learning to walk.'

'Rita, guess what, I'm exploring the world.'

The moko jumbie instruction, at the Yaa Centre in Notting Hill, was organised by Carnival Village Trust and Elimu Mas Academy. Alan was assisted by Blessing and Marshal of #OriginMokoJumbies. More information is on the Moko Somõkõw Facebook page.

A drawing maps time so someone can be in two places at once

The real thing

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Genji, shodō (書道), life

Calligraphy by Taki Kodaira
I leave the radiant morning and plunge into a cavernous pub. Early birds or night-shift workers are sinking pints. I order toast and marmalade - carbohydrate-loading before Taki Kodaira's calligraphy class.

I'm reading The Tale of Genji, the sprawling eleventh-century Japanese classic of prose, poetry and romantic intrigue:

'Or let us look at calligraphy. A man without any great skill can stretch out this line and that in the cursive style and give an appearance of boldness and distinction. The man who has mastered the principles and writes with concentration may, on the other hand, have none of the eye-catching tricks; but when you take the trouble to compare the two the real thing is the real thing.'

This week's struggle for the real thing involves writing out 'letters...like...this...person', i.e. 'your handwriting exposes your character'. Indeed. My better-natured left-handed Dr Jekyll has to be suppressed for this activity, thanks to ancient Japanese cultural norms. My evil right-(wrong)-handed inner Mr Hyde is exposed.

After class, you see calligraphy everywhere. These lines on Baker Street say: 'If your vehicle is involved in a contravention on the red route, you'll be sent a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for £130. You need to pay this within 28 days. If you pay this within 14 or 21 days (it will say on the PCN), the amount will be reduced to £65.' 


Yet the bureaucratic diktat - 'don't you dare appeal' - is subverted by uneven junctions and fluke absences. Such flaws are cherished by artistic calligraphers. Here they suggest silent rebellion.

This evening it's life class, where every mark you make displays your character; it's not the model who's exposed. To make tonight's flawless model more interesting to draw, I use my wrong hand.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Illustrating Proof magazine for The Justice Gap

The Justice Gap is an online magazine campaigning about the difference between law and justice. The latest issue of its printed magazine, Proof, focuses on crime and punishment.

Here are my contributions. For Hardeep Matharu's feature on the lethal spice epidemic in prisons, I co-opted my House Model: 'Hold this stick of chalk and try not to look double-jointed.'

The body combines elements of that spice-induced dead-puppet flop with a bound figure from my NSFW blog:

One section of the magazine covers miscarriages of justice. Without access to Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six I drew him from photos (then and now) - something I generally recoil from, but that's over-fastidious because artists copied photographs and daguerreotypes as soon as they were invented.

Editor Jon Robins's feature about the wrongful convictions of Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon is illustrated with my drawings from their combined, ultimately unsuccessful Supreme Court appeals about compensation in 2018. Sam Hallam served seven years in prison. Victor Nealon served 17 years.
Heather Williams QC on behalf of Hallam...

...and Dinah Rose QC on behalf of Nealon

Patrick Maguire (left, and see below) outside court before Hallam/Nealon appeals

A preview of the next issue of Proof, featuring justice in a time of austerity, highlights the case of a father with complex legal needs, separated from his wife and stuck in a 'legal aid advice desert' in Suffolk.

Nothing comes out of nowhere: at the back of my mind was a black and white family snap of a paddling moment which became my first attempt at a lithograph decades later:

Other illustrations include drawings by Patrick Maguire of the Maguire Seven, who was wrongfully imprisoned at the age of 14. There are also pictures selected by the Koestler Trust which encourages prisoners, secure patients and detainees to engage with art. Among the photographs are several by Andrew Aitchison who documents life behind bars. Art director: Andrew Stocks

Monday, 6 May 2019

More shodō, tensho and wrong-hand drawing

Helvetica Medium in Letraset - remember that?
'Tensho,' muses my friend Pete as we walk up Baker Street to our shodō class, 'is the Helvetica of Japanese calligraphy.'

A functional administrative script introduced to Japan from China, tensho was inscribed into stone, wood, bone or tortoise-shell, and carved into seals, before brush and ink took over. Its no-nonsense sans-serif uniformity has none of those characterful flicky bits or drying-out strokes you get with brushes. In the same spirit, Helvetica is an efficient Swiss mid-twentieth century design meant for neutral public uses.

'Bird' in tensho by Taki Kodaira
Eventually the kaisho style evolved, allowing more expression of the soul. I'd twin it with Perpetua, developed in the 1920s by Eric Gill: this font shows his roots in stone-carving but has a classic beauty and is used for poetry by Faber & Faber.

'Home' in kaisho by Taki Kodaira

Monotype Perpetua

I won't show my own efforts which reveal the backwardness of my right (wrong) hand in calligraphy, which is nothing like drawing. Writing is learned. Drawing is autobiographical. I have pens I can draw but not write with. I am puzzled by the simplest writing brush stroke which reminds me of the years it took me to learn how to tie a bow - the breakthrough came when I realised that the grown-ups did it wrongly.

In life class that evening I'm asked if I've changed my name as I'm initialling everything R.H. It stands for right hand. The body of a calligraphic character is harder for me to read than the body of the model.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Launch of the bands 2019

It's the launch of the bands at the Tabernacle for this year's Notting Hill Carnival, hosted by Ty Mas, Adunni Adams and Nadia Valeri. Upstairs in the mirror-walled studio, people are getting ready.

Quick sketches: