An interesting interview with George Butler about his current exhibition in London and his working process.
If you are in London over the summer and need a break from all the sun, how about checking out the reportage drawings that George Butler made in Syria? Butler’s recent work has won him both the editorial and overall winner of the prestigious V&A Illustration Award. His exhibition: A Year in drawing can be seen at the Illustration Cupboard Gallery from July 13th to August 3rd.
In August 2012 Butler walked the 4 km from the Turkish border to the town of Azaz in Northern Syria. There he documented the displaced returning to their homes, which had been raided or damaged in the crossfire or shelling.
‘I was greeted by casually dressed men, the Free Syrian Army. I was asked, “What did I want to do?” and “Make some drawings” was not necessarily the answer they were expecting. But then I wasn’t really ready to be offered a car, a translator and a place to stay in what had become a war zone. These drawings, done in situ, are not designed to compete with news teams or photographers but I hope offer an insight into how people react at a wholly vulnerable time.’
Butler is not a stranger to war zones. He was an embedded artist with his uncles regiment in Afghanistan. While the news teams chased the action around in the forward operating bases, George was stationed at the camps. He soon realized that the soldiers actually spent most of their time training or teaching the Afghan National Army inside the camp. His drawings are a record of the soldiers there.
‘I don’t think an illustrator can compete with the photo-journalists on the front line, the process is different. You are there for a longer amount of time when you are drawing. It’s open, people can see what you are doing, so you get a different reaction.’
Interestingly in the last 3 years, 2 of the winners of the V&A illustration Award have been reportage illustrators, Olivier Kugler won in 2011 for his 30 page illustrated Journal “Massih”- A Trucker in Iran. Which documents a four-day trip with an Iranian truck driver from Tehran down to the Persian Gulf.
13th July 2013 to 3rd August 2013,
The Illustration Cupboard Gallery, 22 Bury Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6AL
I entered two of my drawings in the From the Loft Floor series into the Association of Illustrators Award competition. They were ‘Johnny Fabricating the Gudgeons’ and ‘James Finishing the Mast’. I was very pleased to find out that my work had been short-listed for a prestigious AOI Award and didn’t imagine that I would go on to be chosen as the winner of my category, professional /self-initiated. The judges were particularly impressed that this extensive body of work has lead to a major exhibition in a national museum. For more information on this see my previous post.
The AOI Illustration Awards are the most comprehensive and highest profile illustration awards based in the UK. There will be a month long exhibition of all the category winners and selected short-listed work at Somerset House in London in October and an award ceremony, where the overall winner will be announced. Last year over 16, 000 visitors attended the AOI Awards exhibition at Somerset House, and many more were able to see the selected work during its nationwide tour. In addition all the winning artists will be featured in the Awards catalogue.
Heng Khoo, AOI Managing Director says, ‘The awards are about celebrating the work of great illustrators and the art of illustration itself.’
Little did I know when I first started my project From the Loft Floor in September 2010 that it would lead to such a large body of work, with 50 drawings completed in 20 months. Now those drawings have become the inspiration for a four month long exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall about building wooden pilot cutters.
Starting in September 2013 the exhibition From the Loft Floor will be displayed in the Quarter Deck gallery. The drawings are a visual diary of the building of a traditional wooden pilot cutter by Luke Powell of Working Sail. I am incredibly excited that this exhibition will not only feature my drawings, but also details of a boatyard with tools, workbenches, boat plans and half models. Tom Cunliffe the well known yachtsman, author and television presenter will be giving a lecture on pilot cutters to accompany this exhibition on 25th September 2013. Tickets will be available from the National Maritime Museum.
It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t my intention to stop for so long, but time has passed incredibly quickly.
In September we lifted our home Blue Linnet out of the water for several weeks of much needed maintenance. Planks were replaced, and parts of the strake renewed, rot was fixed in the bulwarks and a few minor patches in the hull. Everything was painted, although we ran out of enough time and good weather to entirely complete this, antifouling was done and anodes were replaced. Thank you to everyone who helped.
By the middle of October we were back on our mooring and six weeks later I had a baby boy. I am afraid our dear son will be doomed to a lifetime of wooden boat maintenance and an encyclopaedic knowledge of boat construction and nautical terms. I suspect he will want to be an accountant in rebellion.
He is now 14 weeks old and my days are filled with nappies, as a result I am not doing as much drawing as I would like. However in a bid to maintain some thread of my work I have started a sketchbook/ notebook to record his early days, a kind of scrapbook memento. I will inevitable blog on this further as it comes together.
I found this interesting interview with the journalist Chris Hedges about his recent collaboration with the artist/ journalist Joe Sacco, in their book ‘Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’. In it the pair make visible the unseen people and ignored corners of America.
Drawn reportage is often overlooked, and reportage in the form of a graphic novel is easy to dismiss in favour of a photographic or written account of the same event; but in this interview Chris Hedges highlights the advantages of this graphic approach over more traditional forms of reportage. I hope you enjoy it.
Ronald Searle was never acknowledged as an official war artist, despite risking his life to produce a exceptional body of work recording his experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand. Some of these drawings will be exhibited alongside his better known cartoons, in a tribute exhibition, Ronald Searle Remembered (1920-2011) at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder Street, London, SW1Y 6QB, from 22nd May to 9th June 2012.
By the end of January 1942 the British Forces had abandoned the Malayan mainland to the Japanese, and fallen back to Singapore Island. Within a few days the Japanese had assembled more than 50,000 prisoners of war, and marched them the 14 miles to Changi, the area occupying the Eastern end of Singapore Island. Ronald Searle was one of these prisoners. In a remarkable burst of reportage immediately after capitulation Searle documented the triumph of the Japanese, and the collapsed postures and glazed expressions of the defeated allied soldiers.
As conditions worsened, his sense of mission grew in strength. Health, opportunity and materials permitting, he would bring back from this experience a pictorial record of scenes which, he already knew, would otherwise scarcely be believed. It was important work – unique, as it turned out – and it was an objective reason to survive, which every man would come to need.
A supply route from Siam (Thailand) to Burma was essential for the Japanese war effort, but it had previously been accepted it would be impossible to build given the extreme terrain and the debilitating tropical weather. Large numbers of expendable labourers would be needed, and on the 8th May 1942 Searle and the rest of ‘H’ force were moved out. They endured a 100 mile march to the section of track where they would begin work. The prisoners were already severely malnourished and started to die of fevers and exhaustion. Searle who had suffered from enteritis, gastritis and tropical ulcers back in the camp at Changi was in comparatively good shape. Even during the punishing march he made drawings. He continued to record the routine of the day, drawing up later those scenes he could not capture from life. Sometimes making drawings at first light before beginning 18 hours of labour on the railway.
During the time Searle spent working on the railway he contracted Malaria, Dengue fever and Beri-Beri; and suffered from repeated beatings, including the attack of a Japanese guard on one of his hands. He narrowly escaped the airborne cholera that was killing so many others. Men in agonies of hunger would throw away their rice if they saw a fly land on it rather than risk contracting cholera. The fact that Searle drew these scenes makes them possible to imagine.
The Siam – Burma Railway was completed on the 25th October 1943, ahead of schedule. It is said that one man died for every sleeper laid. Searle survived, barely, and was transferred to the Sime Road Camp in Singapore. A fellow prisoner Russell Braddon described him at this time.
He could barely move, and we had no food, he had dysentery, malaria and was covered in running sores and each day we expected him to die…If you can imagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death and has no qualities of the human condition that aren’t revolting, calmly lying there with a pencil and a scrap of paper, drawing, you have some idea of the difference in temperament that this man had from the ordinary human being.
5 months later Searle was transferred to Changi Gaol, where 10,000 prisoners were housed in a facility intended for just 600. On the 24th September 1945 Singapore was formally surrendered; and on the 24th October, nearly 4 years after he left England, Searle arrived in Liverpool.
He had managed to create a body of work considerable enough to make him eligible retrospectively as a war artist, but the Artist Advisory Committee never granted this. In November 1946, a selection of his war drawings were published under the title 40 Drawings. Despite editing which minimised the scenes of forced labour and torture, the book remained powerful enough to distress. There was, during this period of time, a great deal the general public was anxious to forget, and so the publication was not a success. The drawings were put away and were not published again for forty years, when they were finally bought to the public’s attention with the publishing of the book To The Kwai and Back.
For 6 weeks I have not drawn which has been a welcome break, but I am increasingly aware of how rusty my drawings skills are becoming. If I start to practice now then my eye hand coordination ought to be back relatively quickly, but leave it much longer and it will become a gargantuan task. So the question is what to do next?
A daily drawing practice seems to be a topic that comes up a lot. I have tried this in the past, but never managed to maintain it for long. Day to day life presents me with the same familiar things, so finding something I actually want to draw and half an hour to draw it in is difficult to maintain. Matthew Brehm stresses the importance of a daily drawing practice; he suggests that making multiple thumbnails has a greater effect on drawing skills than making one more sustained drawing.
Steve Wilkin draws his fellow commuters, but working from home, I have no commute. Melanie Reim instructs her students to draw 100 hands and 100 feet every week, good practice as hands and feet are particularly unforgiving. I have seen her in lectures with the pages of her sketchbook divided into squares in which she makes quick thumbnail sketches. I think this is an excellent idea, however, I live in a rural area and I doubt I see that many hands and feet in a week, let alone get the chance to draw them.
I could create a daily journal, drawing some significant part of the day and perhaps writing a brief diary entry, but in the past when I have tried this I have waited all day for something significant to reveal itself, only to find myself late at night drawing my drying laundry just for the sake of making a drawing. A boring exercise which leads to boring drawings. I am not ready to commit to another long term sustained project yet, and I find it difficult to draw without some purpose, to me that feels like mindlessly filling up bits of paper. I am still undecided as to what my daily drawing practice should be – any suggestions?
Freja was launched on Saturday 7th April, there was a great party which filled the boatyard with well wishers despite the april showers. Freja is now being put through her paces by her new owners Marion and Anders Johnson, and will based around Falmouth for the summer of 2012. They intend to head further north with her next year.
Since then I have been scanning all my drawings ready to be included on my website. They are finally done and you can see the completed project here. My life and the Working Sail shed seem a little empty having completed 20 months of work on this project, but I have plenty of ideas for my next one. For now I am happy to not have been sitting drawing in the torrential rain we have had for the last month. There may be hosepipe bans in the rest of the country, but in Cornwall this really isn’t necessary.
Drawing is something that needs to be constantly practiced, take a break and in just a few days you loose your eye hand coordination. Keeping sketchbooks with us and using them to make quick drawings is something a lot of us do. It keeps our eye in and passes a little time in a situation that might otherwise be dull or repetitive. Having filled a sketchbook there is often nothing more to do with it than consign it to a shelf or the back of a cupboard along with many others.
Steve Wilkin has been drawing his fellow passengers on his daily commute to Preston for the last 10 years. During this time he has filled over thirty sketchbooks.
Even though I now teach others to be illustrators at the University of Lancashire I still try to draw every day in much the same way that I imagine pianists or guitarists practice everyday. I need to draw whenever I can, and the train is the ideal place, a captive audience.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Steve’s commute he published a commemorative newspaper Seven Thirty Eight. A travelling exhibition of commuter portraits that he gave to his fellow passengers on the Northern rail service to Blackpool North or the York train on the return trip.
This is a brilliant example of what can be done with those sketches that we make to pass the time, and that we so quickly dismiss. Giving a new lease of life to images that perfectly captured a moment in time, and rediscovering those dog-eared sketchbooks abandoned in the back of a cupboard.
If you would like to do something similar then check out The Newspaper Club for small print runs of newspapers.