Exhibition: Paula Rego: The Boy Who Loved the Sea and Other Stories

I visited this exhibition yesterday on the last day at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings.  As indicated in the exhibition title it has paintings, drawings and sculptures based on The Boy Who Loved the Sea and other stories.

Rego has a strong illustrative style to her drawings and paintings which is no surprise when they are based on stories.  However, I found that when the narrative was presented next to the image, as a viewer I had little place to go to find my own narrative or sub-narrative.  As an example, the very first image I viewed was Get Out of Here You and Your Filth, 2013 (link to catalogue containing image on page 25 here) which shows an old women dressed in black (fairly victorian in style) wearing a cross pointing towards a man holding a dress/nightdress against himself.  I read this as a comment on outdated attitudes towards LGTBQ issues, however, on reading the associated text it was actually depicting part of the story where the man is being told off for bringing back an inappropriate present.  This was a prime example of one of the issues raised in Ways of Seeing by John Berger concerning context which I wrote about in a previous post.  Once I had read the text next to this painting I found it very difficult not to read the text against all the paintings, somewhat limiting my enjoyment of the whole exhibition.

The images I found far more interesting in this exhibitions were the series of self-portraits Rego undertook in 2017 after suffering a fall – she shows the cut on her forehead and they have a Francis Bacon feel to them; and, her Depression series which have a real feeling of vulnerability.  For this series she used Lila Names as her model and Lila is quoted as saying she ‘never felt she was really painting me.  It is someone else she sees through me. Either herself or another person.’  These personal drawings were far more powerful for me than the paintings based on the stories.


Research: Insights – Self Portraits by Liz Rideal

Before I start the exercise on creating a self-portrait I thought it might be useful to do a bit of background reading.  I picked up this book many years ago at the National Portrait Gallery after visiting the BP Portrait Award exhibition.

The book presents self-portraits as a form of personal expression, self-reflection and self promotion.  They can be direct, as in a direct depiction of self or indirect, as a concealed or cryptic portrait only recognisable to friends or cognoscenti.  Mortality is also discussed in the book along with ‘memento more’ (‘remember you must die’); self-portraits are a way of achieving immortality.

For me the book highlighted a number of things for me to consider when drawing my own self-portrait:

  • it can be used to emphasise both my physical and cultural identity
  • a mirror creates an image that is smaller and reversed with infinity stretching outwards – using a mirror means we do not see what others see
  • the importance of considering the composition eg direct eye contact, staring back, etc.
  • what you wear communicates something about yourself
  • if you include other people it can record something about people and relationships important to you at a specific time.

This was a useful read and contains a wide range of images of self-portraits across all periods of art and in a wide range of mediums.

Rideal, L.  (2005) Self Portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery.

Proj 6, Ex. 1: The Head – Facial Features

For this exercise I drew some facial features of myself and my partner in my sketchbook, mainly exploring the eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

I found this exercise useful as in the life drawing classes you tend to focus on the whole body or a major proportion of the body.  By focusing in on one feature it made me look harder at the part of the face and appreciate the subtle changes in tone and texture that was present.  This should help when I start to develop portraits more in later exercises and the assignment.

Proj 5, Ex.1: Single Moving Figure

This first series of drawings (all A2) are of the model singing and playing the guitar.  Whilst no big movement occurred, the slight movement of the head, body and guitar was surprising distracting.

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The next drawing in pencil (A1) shows the model stepping onto a box.  The movement is divided into 4 distinct positions, with 1 minute pauses between each position.  This cycle was repeated 4 times.


The next drawing in charcoal is the model walking with 1 minute pauses in 4 positions, repeated 3 times.


Both these exercises were designed to help me look for similar positions in each drawing a slowly build the image.  It meant you had to be quick and re-analyse your drawing at each stage in order to show the movement.

In the next drawing the model is continuously walking for a 10 min period.


I found this really difficult as the model was advancing towards me and therefore changing in scale.  Also,  I became overwhelmed with trying to observe the model and record her movements, as well as record where her various limbs and body were located in space.

The next drawing (A1) in Conte is the model going from a sitting to standing position continuously for a 10 minute period.


In this drawing I tried to superimpose one edge of a drawing over the next to show that continuous movement.  Again, I think my brain was trying to do much and therefore not knowing quite which bit to concentrate on.

The final drawing (A1, charcoal) in this series is of a model continuous walking for a period of 10 minutes.


This time I tried to concentrate on four distinct position and show the model gradually increasing in size to show the model was walking towards me.  It is quite a sketch drawing but I think that add to the sense of movement.

This exercise was incredible enjoyable whilst very challenging.  I seemed to enter almost a position of panic with my eye trying to observe, my hand quickly record and my brain trying to anticipate the next position.  Overall, I am very pleased with my results, i would have never tried this before beginning this course.

Research: The Nude – a new perspective by Gill Saunders.

This was one of the recommended books within this unit.  The book discusses the difference between the female and male nude in art.  It first gives a historical overview, contrasting the early beginning of the nude in art – the Greeks where it represented nobility and the potential of the human spirit (a theme which re-emerged in the Renaissance period) and the Christians were nakedness was a symbol of guilt and shame (outward sign of sins of the flesh, punished in Hell).  It goes onto to look at the male nude during the 18th and 19th centuries when it was often the subject of academic study, posed after an antique figure.  There were a number of reasons for this –  the male nude during this period representing perfection; females were considered inferior; studios and academies were male preserves; and, the puritanism of the Christian tradition.

The book goes on to look at the roles played by the, male (active) and female (passive), nude.  It sets out that attitudes to gender and sexuality are a result of a patriarchal societies in the west and therefore reflected in the depiction of the nude – males are seen as aggressive, independent and analytical whilst females are seen as emotional, nurturing and intuitive.  It then looks at Manet’s Olympia which it states was controversial as the female nude in this image did not play the passive role,  The female nude has a bold and challenging stare so that the spectator cannot project the Christian cultural guilt onto her and her gaze is not lowered rather is directed at the spectator (thereby taking the male role of the spectator herself).  The chapter then looks at other images depicting active and passive roles, presenting other non-conforming images where images of passive male nudes are based on the Christian images of Christ, embodying spiritual suffering  and thereby raising their virtue; in contrast, active female nudes are presenting as the personification of purely male qualities or as a predatory female – menacing and engulfing their male victims.

The next chapter looks at the Fetishised Nude, contrasting the way the male nude is eroticised and the female nude fetishised, mutilated, fragmented and rendered anonymous; it used the Venus de Milo as an example where it was held as the icon of female beauty but is mutilated and therefore powerless and passive.  It also uses the work of Bill Brandt which shows fragments of the female nude as an example of work which celebrates mutilation or disabling.  It also looks at the anonymity of the female nude being fragmented – reducing the female to an ‘it’ or an ‘object’.   There are exceptions to the rule, one of which is Robert Mapplethorpe who photographs both male and female fragmented nudes, both being treated as aesthetic objects.

The penultimate chapter presents the view that in every known society predominate view is that the female is closer to nature and the male closer to culture.  It looks at the female nude in the landscape where she is presented either as Venus, Diana or a nymph linked to fertility or acquiescent instinct.  It also looks at images of the artist and his model, where the artist is in a position of power and control whereas the model is vulnerable by their nakedness and in a passive role.

The last sections looks at how the nude is being presented in contemporary art to disrupt the tradition of the female nude discussed in the previous chapters.  It focuses on how female artists are attempting to reclaim the nude and present it in such a way as to give it a more personal and feminist meaning (e.g Mary Daly who presented her own image free of patriarchal and phallic associations).  Female artist use various methods to break with the tradition of the female nude – reworking of myths; deconstruction of visual codes; parody; role reversal and re-presentation of the female body experience/imagery.  Feminist argue that any representation of the female nude is open to misappropriation of the final image and therefore continues the tradition.

This was an interesting book raising a number of very valid issues for me in depicting the nude, particularly as I attend life drawing classes with predominately female models.  How do I overcome in my art that tradition of the female nude?  One criticism of the book for me is that the arguments were predominately in line with the author’s view and very little counter evidence was presented – perhaps of course because very little counter evidence exists? Also, the book ignores the LGBTQ issues.  With my limited knowledge of art at present it is difficult for me at this stage to evenly weigh up the evidence either to challenge or accept the argument.  However, I definitely felt that the book was presenting a political view point of the author and has to be read with that in mind.

Proj 4, Ex. 2: Structure – Three Figure Drawings


The first drawing in charcoal is A1 in size and was of a 15 min pose.


I like the energy and the tonal shading in this drawing even though the legs are a bit too long and the angle of the buttock is too sharp.  The weight on the back foot could also be better shown by darken the line a bit at the heel.

The next drawing is in Conte crayon (A1) of a 25 min pose.


Again, I like the shading in this drawing, particularly the darker tones on the back leg and under the chin.  The back leg is not quite right as it looks slightly detached from the pelvis.


The first drawings in this series is in pencil (A3 size for each, left 5 min pose, right 10 min pose).



With these drawings were successful and whilst the outstretched leg is slightly long in the left drawing, I like this as it emphasises the stretched nature of the pose.  In the right drawing the leaning back of the model is well captured as well as the twist of the back leg.

The next drawing using bamboo pen, brush and ink is A2 (30 min pose).


This is rapidly becoming my favourite drawing medium.  I think the pose is well illustrated and I like the dark shading on one side, bringing the figure forwards.  The correction lines help to give energy to a fairly static pose.

The next drawing is in Conte crayon (A2 – 30 mins).


The hair stands out for me in this drawing and the gaze down gives the pose a contemplating nature.  I need to change the weight of the outlines more, making some heavier and losing others to give the drawing more life.

My last two drawings are in pencil on A2, both 20 min poses.  The left hand drawing uses two pencil tied together and the right hand drawing a pencil tied to the end of a 45 cm stick.  this is to free up the drawings more e and try to become more expressive with my marks.  It also forces back from the drawing.

Both these drawing are more expressive than my previous drawings.  I particularly enjoy the range of marks in the right hand drawing and the various weights of the tones and marks.  Definitely a technique to experiment with further.


The first two drawings (A2) on mid-tone paper are in black and white Conte with the paper acting as the mid-tone (25 min and 30 min duration).

I have included more of the background in these drawings to place the model in context although still in a very loose manner.  Using a mid-tone paper has helped me to concentrate on the lightest and darkest tones and this has helped to improve these drawings.

The next two drawings are in charcoal on mid-tone paper, A2 and of 20/25 min poses.

Again, a lot of background is included and this does improve the drawings as the cushions help to define where the weight is distributed.  The right drawing was against a black backdrop and I think i could have lighten the figure more to bring her forwards.  The left hand drawing has a better range of tones and I have used a lighter touch.  I do tend to draw too dark with charcoal and even though I know this is the case, I find it hard to draw lighter tones.

My next drawing of a 30 min pose is A2 size, in Conte.


I had to reposition the arm at a late stage in this drawing as I realise I had the angle wrong.  I have managed to capture the twisted pelvis and the angle of the head.  Varying the weight of the marks on the outline would have improved this drawing.

My final three drawings (A2) use pen, brush and ink (all 20 min poses).

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In the first drawing the ink has bled along the top line of the drawing and this is a very happy accident as I think it adds to the drawing.  In this drawing I think I have captured the weight of the breasts and the angle of the thigh quite well.  In the second drawing the washes have helped define the form and in the third drawing I think the limited palette and using only a brush help to keep the drawing expressive.

Proj 4, Ex. 1: Structure – Details

I had an opportunity whilst attending Life Drawing classes to focus on detail and draw parts of the body which seemed idea for this exercise.  The first series of drawings (all A2) in pencil concentrate on the feet.  I have always found feet hands and the head quite difficult to capture when drawing the whole model so this was a great exercise in concentrating on one part of the body and focusing in on how they are structured.

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In the first drawing the angles in lower foot are too acute and do not seem nature, whilst the upper foot is more rounded and better formed.  I think it is the multi lines in the upper foot which give a better rendition as well as the shading round the toes.  I particular like the drawing of the sole of the foot in Drawing 2 and am pleased how I caught the various pads of the sole.  In the third drawing the relationship between the two feet is, I think, quite well drawn.

The next drawings are of the hands, again in pencil.

The drawing on the left (5 min pose) of the hand holding the bottle turned out quite well considering the time of the pose.  I think I have drawn the way the fingers are gripping the bottle quite well, although the could have been slightly more curved to match the rounded shape of the bottle.  In the right hand drawing, the form of the hands is well captured with an emphasis on defining the knuckles and nail shapes.

My third series (A2) are of the trunk of the body, again in pencil (2 x 7 minute poses).


These drawings concentrate on defining the structure from the centre outwards, only putting in outlines once the form of the structure has been defined.  The first drawing on the left shows at first I struggled with this concept, however, the second right hand drawing is much more successful, as I keep my initial marks light to define the form and then darker areas and lines to full define the structure of the skin.  The bottom areas under the belly button are not quite right and are too rounded but overall the impression of how the skin and fat sits is quite well drawn.

The next drawing (A2) was of a 1 hour pose and my view was of the back of the model.  We were concentrating on an area of the body and I choose the buttocks and legs of the model.


Whilst the drawing is quite success, I think I have shown how the different layers of skin sit on each other, an hour was almost too long for me for this drawing.  I kept readjusting the various elements of the drawing and in the ned this affected my final outcome.  I must have redrawn the legs about 10 times and this muddled my view of the drawing and the angles.  Something to think about for the future – how much time to spend on each drawing?