January round up

Blogging has been a bit lax in 2018 so far; January, as everyone knows, is a tough nut and I’m very glad it’s over. That said I did do some pretty cool things last month that I’ve been wanting to blog about, so here goes.

Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern

I went on a Friday afternoon and it was PACKED, I thought for a minute of turning around and leaving again but I persevered. Once I got out my little sketchbook and started drawing, the crowds seemed to melt away a little and I was able to get a good look at the paintings. It was particularly interesting to see these after having done a lot of life drawing recently because I could really see how Modigliani was tackling the problems that beset me every Thursday night in life class. Thinking about the ways he keeps the proportions and creates volume while also capturing the aliveness and individuality of the model was really useful. One of my favourite paintings was Caryatid 1913-14  see below for the original and my sketch of it, I love the simplicity of the hands and feet and how he conveys volume and shading using the width of the line.

I also loved his portraits of Jean Cocteau and Barnowski – my copies below. The androgynous dandyism particularly drew me and made me think about how lines express gender – what signifyers are we looking for when we state, “that is a man” or “that is a woman”? And what are we missing?

While I was drawing the nude below I enjoyed listening to two older women having a conversation about the fact he had painted her pubic hair and the various ways in which they like to maintain their own bushes. Eavesdropping on conversations while drawing, and writing down the juicy bits is one of my favourite things to do.



Peeping Tom: Moeder – London International Mime Festival

The other day, I was describing what it’s like to do animation to my friend Sara: how you start by observing a movement, watching it again and again, how you break it down into it’s constitutent parts and exaggerate each one before putting it back together again to create the illusion of action or feeeling. She immediately said, it’s just like mime! Sara went to mime school for two years, so I trust her. We decided to go see some together and her mime friends recommended Peeping Tom, a Belgian dance company that happened to be performing at the Barbican for the London International Mime Festival.

The show was in the biggest Barbican theatre and it was almost sold out, I had no idea that mime was so popular! In his Guardian review Matt Trueman describes Moeder (Mother) as follows:

Paintings swallow people whole. Sketches bleed. Sculptures spring to life. On the gallery walls, madonnas routinely disappear, replaced by self-portraits of men. Art has a life of its own. […] Set in a shifting, amorphous art gallery with white walls and windowed rooms, it shows us a strange spectrum of motherhood. Pregnant women flail around in high heels. Cleaners splosh in flooded rooms. A coffee machine becomes a lover and a child lives her whole life in an incubator. All the way through, birth jostles with death; illness with care; machines with human creation.

The movement in Moeder was disturbing, characters constantly flailed and fell, tipping over on their insanely flexible limbs, unable to stand. Sometimes characters convulsed for minutes at a time while live sound effects of smashing glass were amplifed throughout the huge theatre. We were in the top seats of the upper circle (the only affordable ones) and I longed to be a little nearer the action to see how they were doing these things with their bodies, but at the same time I wanted to run away from the horror and pain that they were embodying. It made me think about how in animation we so often fall back on movement cliches (sadness is curled up in a ball, happiness arms wide), so seeing something totally new: grief forcing people into near impossible backbends like in Moeder – it hits you so much more forcefully and effectively than if they had curled forward. I want to start thinking about this more when I am animating.

Philip Glass’ Satyagraha at the English National Opera

As part of the ENO project that the second years did in the autumn term, we got free tickets to go and see the dress rehearsal of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. It started at 9.30 am and so it was a bit of a jolt out of my normal routine to sit down for three hours of opera on a weekday morning, (to be honest, opera is outside of my routine at pretty much anytime.) I learnt as the show started that modern opera is not the dramatic arias and solos that the genre brings to mind but rather the music is a constant that washes over you blending from one piece into another without any seeming break. This really pulls you into the show’s world, in this case a world of corrugated iron and newspaper puppets where everyone moved very slowly and you were never entirely sure what was going on. The opera seemed to be a procession of ‘Great Men’ including Tolstoy, Ghandi and Martin Luther King who seemed to fade in and out of each other’s stories with no clear reason. That said the set, puppets and staging were beautiful and the slow exaggerated poses again made me think about new ways to build on my characters’ body language in my animation.


Finally, and hands down the best thing I saw in January was Coco, Pixar’s new animated feature film about a little boy in Mexico who goes to the land of the dead in search of his great great grandfather’s blessing to become a musician.

The story is beautifully constructed so that even though it sometimes gets devilishly complicated it never leaves you behind. The colours are just so so beautiful, the land of the dead is entirely neon, which makes me ridiculously happy:

And of course, in classic Pixar fashion, Coco pulls at your heart strings, with it’s themes of death and grief, family and friendship – and I was loudly sobbing by the end. Finally I love the face of the great great grandma:


Torrey Pines

I attended the LIAF screening of Torrey Pines, on a very cold Friday night at the Horse Hospital. The venue was only about a quarter full and it was freezing. I had expected a stop motion queer coming of age film, and although the film does sometimes elude to that narrative, most of it is a celebration of the wildly varied american landscape. Each slow panning shot is painstakingly painted and cut out – and rolls on seemingly forever mirroring the boredom of a child staring out a car window.

Below is one of the moments the film does confront Petersen’s queer identity – when 12 year old clyde is sees his mother getting out of the shower and is suddenly terrified of what his body could become. 

LIAF documentary screening

Last week I went to see the London  International Animation Festival (LIAF)  documentary screening. There were sixteen different short films being shown of hugely varied style and content. My favorites were probably The Junction – an animated interview with Chilly Gonzales and Peaches about their musical interactions – directed by Patrick Doyon, see trailer below. I liked the simple drawing style and the metamorphosing lines of the piece rather than being particularly drawn in by the content.

Another beautiful film was Surprise by Paolo Patricio – a conversation between a mother and her 3 year old child who is recovering from kidney cancer. I loved the melding of the child and adult drawings, and the lines that appeared and were wiped away. The conversation was beautifully edited and gave you a real sense of the characters’ relationship to each other.

Finally, Yours Faithfully, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) by Chris Shepherd – was a great story coupled with some very convincing After Effects puppet animation – that was both funny and strangely touching.

However my favourite part of the evening was definitely the Q&A afterwards where the film makers discussed some of the reasons why animation is good for documentary making. The three main ones they came up with:

  1. Animation allows you to tell people’s stories without exposing their identities. For example Blue Light by Harriet Croucher was about people in the fire service telling their stories and the trauma that often accompanied them.  The original interviewees were worried they could lose their jobs if it was found out that they were suffering from PTSD. 
  2. Animation can use an image to symbolise something bigger and more universal than itself, for example in The Junction  the filmmaker uses an apple being eaten by worms to show the idea of selling out to the music industry -this image enables a visceral response from the spectator – and – as one panellist pointed out is much easier to draw!
  3. Stories can seem more universal when they are animated. It enables the story to not just be about the one individual being interviewed and the spectator’s relation to them but for a more generalised empathy to exist between the characters in the film and the audience.