Frances Jayne Newman fine art

Home     Gallery     Full CV     MA Drawings     Services     Arts & Crafts     Contact 


MA Drawing, (part-time)

Camberwell College of Arts 

Discussion Paper November 2005











Drawn towards the Thames : A journey from Tate Britain towards the Tower in search of clarification and discovery[1].

What is drawing? Again I found myself struggling with a suitable definition.Wadsworth's[2] harbour scene was based on Le Havre in northern France which, according to the Tate's suitably wordy caption, shows apparent calm while at the same time concealing a sense of anxiety. This had been selected as an appropriate exemplar of a particular method of drawing. The quandary for me was that, again as the caption informed, the work was a painting in egg tempera on wood, measuring 635 x 762 mm (although I suspect it was 25 x 30 inches when completed).

Was this once more a sign of the pedantic nature of my sometimes rigid and didactic mind or a lack of a clear definition that would now forever be associated with the word in my psyche?  I toyed, like Walter Benjamin had, with the idea that the German word for sign, 'Zechien', was the root word for drawing, but this train of thought seemed to get me nowhere and I continued through the gallery like the Wadsworth's painting; outwardly calm and yet concealing a sense of anxiety.  

As we worked our way along the central colonnade of the high Victorian monument to philanthropic wealth built on the blood of African slaves we tarried a moment longer to consider Lambert's[3] rather ambiguous sculpted work 'Homo Sapiens'.

Somewhat distracted from the discussion, as my unexpected appointment with Roberson[4] seemed to be approaching faster than I had anticipated, I overheard the lament 'Never Again War'.

Having resolved that morning to experiment rather loosely (and when it suited me) with Locke's doctrine of association of ideas[5] my minds-eye wandered back to Kathe Kollwitz's and her passionate and haunting poster of the same title[6].

Like Lambert's work, Kollwitz's lithograph shows a lone figure, this time facing left raising the right arm skyward and pressing the left hand to the heart, the emblazoned text leaving no room for ambiguity, the world was not harmonious. I saw here echoes of the plea in drawing by the German Expressionist Max Pechstein, 'To All Artists!' now is a time to act, [7] and so I left hurriedly.

As I stared out across the flowing and ebullient Thames towards the silhouetted outline of the monstrous home of official criminal and nefarious methods of governance, it occurred to me that I had received no text message as yet from Rimmington[8].

Before I could walk along the river to rendezvous with Roberson eastward at Whitehall, I paused and looked west along the river. My imagination, as if of its own volition wandered off like a flaneur[9], aimlessly strolling through the crowds, in studied contrast to their hurried purposeful activity, revealing to me the river's concealed past. After conversing with Wilde and Godwin at Chelsea[10], I stared at the coming dusk and saw Whistler plan his arrangements of line, form and colour, the 'Nocturnes', before boarding a vessel at Hammersmith to join Morris and his friends as they took the boat up-river to 'Nowhere'[11].

However, before I could begin a much sought after discussion with Morris on art, my mobile rang and I realised the somewhat pressing engagement I wished to attend to, that John Berger had suggested to me, was now possible[12].

It was in Victoria Tower Gardens located just West of what Morris had rather accurately described as a 'dung market'[13] that I met my friend Roberson, who, on seeing it for the first time was staring rather intently at Rodin's imposing 'Burghers of Calais'.

I wondered if he was drawn to the humanity that Rodin had sought to instil in his work. Had he seen that Rodin had set out to observe the physiques of common people? Did he know that he had boldly declared, against the then current prevailing ideas, that his moral stance was that the meaning of life was best expressed by actions taken directly from nature, not fabricated by art styles or allegorical conventions?

Before I could enquire as to his thoughts, he remarked, stroking the chains across the burghers necks with the familiarity of a man so long in-chained, that he found it difficult to believe that politicians of our own age would make the same sacrifice that the burghers countenanced before delivering themselves to the hangman to secure their City's freedom[14].

I was, ashamedly, a little surprised by his seemingly in-depth knowledge of the French artist. He smiled at my quizzical expression, commenting that whilst in detention he had read extensively not only on political and philosophical developments but that he had also found much solace, comfort and inspiration in the arts. He said that he had preferred the written word, the poets Shelley and Rimbaud[15] numbered amongst his favourites, but he felt this bias was to be located in the total absence of seen artefacts since he was imprisoned, and to be frank, since his early childhood days at school.

I had said to him that it has been suggested that Kathe Kollwitz, whom I was thinking of only a short time before we had met, germinated her ideas from literary sources and an aesthetic inclination rather than concrete political involvement. Again surprising me with his intellectual prowess, he declared as to his opinion that this argument, and that of others like Prelinger, carried with it an agenda to emaciate and isolate Kollowitz from her political, as well as her deeply artistic motivations. He urged me to be more inquisitive of the 'given' text, reminded me of Benjamin's injunction to question all the more when the unbiased nature of a text is declared[16].

He urged me to study her work on the murder and burial of Liebknecht[17] and then to ask myself if this was indeed the work of someone essential inspired by words only.

Strolling back through the gardens we traversed Lambeth Bridge and approached the Palace, I pointed out to him that although it had been rebuilt just before the Second World War the crossing was indeed one on the oldest on the river, I indicated the site of William Blake's former residence at the Hercules Buildings, where he had been assailed by loyalist mobs for the printing of seditious tracts[18], and the location of the first Martin Brothers Pottery studio[19].

As we reach the south side I intoned that it felt good to find him again. He said that he was pleased to see me, adding that although he was now 'released' we would both have to agree that this was not the kind of freedom we had aspired to.

To avoid any sentimentality clouding our reunion I hurriedly changed tact and informed him of my temporary experiment with Locke. He said that although he had not studied Locke's ideas in depth and had been denied access to the World Wide Web, he had obtained an unabridged copy of all of Laurence Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy' and felt thoroughly conversant with the notions advanced by Locke. He agreed it could be an interesting ethnological experiment if we continued in such a state of mind along our journey.

As we gently made our way along the Albert Embankment, two twenty first century flanuers seeking out the unseen and the past to understand our present, we glanced back across the river to the re-built dung market designed by A W N Pugin and Sir Charles Barry[20]. I mentioned to him some beautifully expressive little Turner sketches that I had recently seen showing the place ablaze in 1834[21].

He enigmatically told me that he had not seen Turner's drawings but would have liked to have been among the London crowds the artist had depicted enthralled by the sea of red, orange and white that engulfed the cradle of democracy!

Roberson said that he had understood my lack of correspondence since mid-2000 but was interested in what I was occupying my time with now. Wanting to avoid discussion of my involvement with the memorial to the executed Nigerian Saro-Wiwa, I outlined my part-time MA in drawing at Camberwell focusing on gesture and expression through the vortex of the worker.

I stated that I partially agreed with the German artist Klinger in that unlike painting, a so-called pictorial art, which provides pure enjoyment, drawing, a so-called reporting art, the most salient characteristic of which is the subjectivity of the artist, could confront not only the beautiful but also the repugnant.

Roberson said that he knew little of Klinger's work, other than his series of ink drawings entitled 'A Glove'[22], which, he said, had reminded him in some unknown way of people skating on the iced-over Thames many years ago. He added that he had read somewhere that the Italian artist he much admired and would like to meet if at all possible, Giorgio De Chirico, had said that Klinger was thoroughly modern in the sense of a man of awareness who feels the heritage of centuries of art and thought, who sees clearly into the what went before, into the present and is able to confront himself.

We observed many cyclists using the river path to speed homeward after a day's work and two tourists arm in arm meandering along the now darkened river. For a moment the normal gentle ambiance of the river at dusk was disturbed as three large military craft, high in the water, sped passed us travelling up the river; to what ends we could only conjecture.

In the chilled evening darkness we discerned office workers illuminated in their cages of glass. I recalled to Roberson that in my schools days we had been taught of Anthony Crossland's[23] vision of a society gaining more relaxation and leisure but that process had now been reversed. I indicated that this current development of intensification of exploitation had begun in the manufacturing industries in the 1980's and had accelerated in the 1990's when it hit professional and white collar workers in particular. I wondered aloud where things better in the days of only black and white television.

Roberson declined to be drawn on the matter. I recalled the large black and white cityscapes of the river made by John Virtue that I had seen the previous year at the National Gallery and declared that it had also been my intention to reduce my palette to black and white in an attempt to find some truth[24]. 

I turned and looked north to Westminster Bridge and recalled to Roberson the Liverpool Dockers[25] march of 1998. I told him that just two years ago there were several demonstrations so large that often the head of the march reached Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park before the back of the march had even departed from their various assembly points.

These massive protests of public indignation had been provoked by the decision to prepare for war in the Middle East. A decision taken by the politicians in Parliament at the behest of the man who, as State Governor of Texas had signed more death warrants on his own people than any other Governor before him.

Saddened, we walked in silence for a time. Lost in thought I realised that instead of enjoying the vistas out across the flowing river I was entranced, looking down at the ground and following my foot steps. A line had caught my attention. A line with a rhythm and regularity like that of a side-winding rattlesnake might make as it crosses its desert terrain. A trail of paint had leaked from an 'accidentally' pierced pot on its journey from purchase to application. The line progressed along the South side of the river, swinging out and back with the maker's gait.

As we reached the small crowd around what was in a previous life County Hall, and now the rather turgid showcase of one of the most ostentatious and pretentious collectors of art of the moment along with some rather large fish tanks, I frowned. Roberson, seeing my obvious dislike of one of the buildings current tenants, reminded me that for Walter Benjamin every cultural product leaks intelligence about the makeup of its contemporaneous social world; no negativity is annexed to the idea of decline and no products of culture are irretrievable to meaning.  Adding that for Benjamin there are as such no real periods of decline, for history uncoils unevenly.

Here the rhythm of the line quickened and I could see its maestro had negotiated a similar crowd in his or her path. A line, was that the essence of a drawing or could a description of tones be called by the same name?

I posited the question to Roberson: did he think that a line defined drawing and that this line must be made with a pen or pencil? Staring briefly out towards the imposing steel structure of the Eye he remarked that others have made what they define as drawings employing a vast arrangement of media. Was not Smithson's jetty creating line? Had not Fred Sandback employed strands of wool to make lines in space[26], and I was forced to concede that my peer, Bruce was attempting to create a line with a trace of movement. 

Roberson said that Dan Clowes, an American cartoonist he had read in Huntsville, had recently said it had taken him close to 20 years trying to work out how to draw the perfect line only to realise it could be achieved best with a water colour brush and a lot of practice. I was not sure if Clowes had said this personally to Roberson or if he had gleaned the information from another source[27].  I started to get a sense that Roberson was trying to gently point out that maybe I was limiting myself.

At the end of Jubilee Gardens we turned south and with the river behind us and Waterloo International train station to the fore we stood for a short time to take in the Shell Tower, a monument to 20th century British and Dutch capitalism soon to become more luxury apartments when the trans-global fiend relocates to the Hague .

Here finally I told Roberson of my work with Platform[28] and the Saro-Wiwa memorial project. I informed him that I was last here just two weeks previously, standing in silent solidarity with Saro-Wiwa's widow and others before the city hordes, filing past us on their way to start their working days. He told me that he had missed his mother very much and encouraged me to write to her soon.

To cheer ourselves from the gloom that was coming over us both we made a small detour at the Queen Elizabeth Hall so that Roberson could see the statue of Nelson Mandela. As Mandela seems in life, so the bust is larger than life and caste in bronze, boldly serving to remind us of humanity's power to resist subjugation.

We remembered old times, congratulated the South African resistance on the fall of apartheid, recalled the life of the recently deceased Rosa Park and began a vigorous discussion on the need and function of memorials, which was leading us nowhere in particular.

I mentioned to Roberson the William Kentridge animation, 'Monument', that I had admired at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which I informed him was located at the east end of the city. Trying to draw out the subversive nature of the work to Roberson I outlined its sequential development in which Kentridge's creation of business man Soho Eckstein, insincerely unveils a large statue of an African worker, head bent, carrying a heavy load, which as Eckstein moves away, breaks free, wandering off and thus resisting Eckstein's order of representation[29].

Before Roberson could comment our attention was distracted by a constant thud and slap on the concrete below. Growing cold in the November night, having paused on our walk, we turned to continue and discovered the source of the clamour. It was being created by young and not so young skateboarders practising their moves in the recesses of this 60's Brutalist concrete construction of Hubert Bennett[30]. 

The skateboarders had a more colourful grotto than I remembered from when my son regularly visited the area some years previously and all seemed brighter, sanctioned graffiti now adorning the cavernous space.

I told Roberson about free running, a recent attempt to negate the hostile urban environment practised by a more 'spiritual' generation. This was a pastime Roberson said he had not much experience of, but we both agreed such a practice admirable.  

Under Waterloo Bridge, where we had missed the sun-set, the book sellers were packing up and I noticed a gentle breeze was fingering the pages of a copy of Engels 'Conditions of the Working Class in England'. The river path still busy with a throng of people, Roberson observed it seemed much harder in contemporary London to discern working people from tourists and those merely out sampling the cultural amenities available.

We considered a visit to the National Film Theatre as Vertov's path-breaking film, 'Man With a Movie Camera'[31], was being screened. We decided against this option and instead discussed, over a cup of expensive but warm hot chocolate, one of the problems that Vertov and his collaborators raised regarding the inconspicuous observation of subject matter.

I related to Roberson my own difficulties in trying to record workers going about their tasks without my presence altering their behaviour and attitudes. Following Vertov's use of hidden cameras, I mentioned that I had briefly considered secreting myself inside one of Paul MacCarthy inflatables, so as to conduct my observation surreptitiously. Roberson said that he felt that this tactic may not work as the presence of a large inflatable may also affect people's behaviour, although he could not be sure on this point, as he had heard that many people simply walked passed these works convinced that they constituted another selling mechanism some clever advertising agent had produced.

Unable to form any firm conclusions, we decided to move on, rather regretting now that we had not made the time to see Vertov's work. We passed the London Television Centre, Gabriels Wharf, (the first of many once crowded wharfs that now seem to have been transformed into restaurants, shops or luxury accommodation that we would come across along this stretch of the river) beyond the Bernie Spain Gardens and on toward the Oxo Tower, with its roof top restaurant that sold expensive frozen potato chips.

Passing the BBC's Dominic Lawson I confided to Roberson that I had all but given up watching television, adding that I was stubbornly sticking to analogue reception as part of a growing underground, and as yet un-coordinated, movement to subvert attempts by the Government and SkyCorp to get everyone ensnared into a pay-per-view scenario.

Roberson said, in what I thought was a rather tautological description of the man, that there was a particular narrow minded neo-conservative American critic Hilton Kramer[32] who had implied that everything that can be shown or said about art on TV is a pernicious lie. He said however, that whilst not agreeing with the sentiment of Kramer that he rather agreed with Robert Hughes comments that TV cannot construct a satisfactory parallel to the experience of the static artwork.

As we passed under Blackfriars Bridge, I considered discussing the death in mysterious circumstances of Christianity's banker, Roberto Calvi,[33] some years before with Roberson, but before I spoke a rather bedraggled and unshaven man, huddled in a blanket that had seen better days, enquired of us had we spare any change. I obliged. Thinking him a timely reminder that all was not as it seems in contemporary Britain and that indeed, as Oscar Wilde had pointed out some time before, we do indeed live in a world of surfaces[34].

Within a moment we were upon Tate Modern which unfortunately had closed early that evening due to a security alert as there were a number of unidentified packages in the Turbine Hall[35]. As we approached the re-built Globe Theatre I desperately tried to impress Roberson with an appropriate citation from the great writer, but alas poor I, I knew his work not well; I therefore merely recited some useless information about the building's original construction in 1599.

We meandered through the growing arcades of Clink Street, a street that at one time contained no less the seven prisons, one of which now gives it name in generic slang to the institution, on around Southwark Cathedral, along Jubilee Walk beyond London Bridge before stopping for refreshment in the Mud Lark Tavern.

Roberson, who for a short time in the state penitentiary had studied birds, pointed out that the commonly known Mud Lark was not of the Eremophila alpestris genus as is often assumed but is in fact from the Pipet or Motacillidae family. I re-tell of the children, known as mud larks, that scavenged on the banks of the river for coal and wood which they could sell in exchange for food, but I suspect Roberson, who is well-versed in the works of Arthur Rimbaud and of his travels with Verlaine[36] in London, knew of the plight of these young children when this place was then Tyre and Carthage all rolled into one.

As I held the vision of the undernourished and hungry I recalled how Kollwitz had explained that it was only after coming into close contact with the lives of the poor did she truly begin to understand her chosen subject's power and that to represent this through her work then offered a vent, or a possibility to tolerate life[37].

We bid good cheer to the inn-keeper, who eyed us with some suspicion as we had decided to vacate a mere 20 minutes into happy hour. However we paid him no heed and proceeded along the waters edge.

We came across the now permanently moored battle cruiser, HMS Belfast. Roberson, who seemed at this juncture to be fading but in possession of more knowledge of my own city than myself, explained that Belfast and its sister ship Edinburgh, with their 6 inch guns arranged in four triple mounts, were designed for the protection of trade, offensive action and as a powerful support for amphibious operations.

He said with an air of sound authority, that it seemed unreasonable to question him, that they were ordered by the Admiralty in 1936 and assigned by tender to Messers Harland and Wolff of Belfast.  He added that Belfast had been launched by Mrs Neville Chamberlain on St Patrick's Day 1938, presumably to insure peace in her, and her husband's, time. He did not mentioned the launching of HMS Edinburgh merely adding that she was sunk in May 1942, losing 58 men, being 2 officers and 56 ratings, although in human terms he cold not see the difference.

Not wanting to be seen as deficient on the history of the shipbuilding trades of this spectre'd isle I mentioned that from May 1940 to March 1946 Stanley Spencer, as an official war artist, had worked on an epic series of war paintings.

Roberson retorted that in his opinion these works merely reflected the fact that the war effort at home was a crucial element of national survival and that the recording of the construction of these merchant ships with men plumbing, welding, riveting and rigging only served to foster a mood of national reconciliation.

He said that he preferred Laura Knight's famous painting of 'Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring'[38], because although it served much the same purpose as Spencer's work, it at least represented the rising phenomena of women in the workplace. I could see from these remarks that he was growing tired and irritable. His countenance seemed subdued and saddened.

As we approached City Hall, new home to the latest mayor of London, my text message from Rimmington came in. 'Draw with whatever means necessary'. It was set.

I turned to wish my farewells to Roberson and encourage him to venture further up river to visit the artist Edward Wolfe[39] and his engaging and rather profound friend the writer James O'Connor at their home in Limehouse, but he had boarded a river taxi to cross to the tower.  He mouthed that he had one further appointment at the water gate[40] and I wished him well.

Bibliography & Footnotes



Web Manager: Plan B Websites