Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Shakespeare and transistor radios

I've been  a little lax with my Blog postings, so to remedy this I thought I'd write a few lines about my latest etching which is titled; ' But, O, How Vile An Idol Proves This God!' If that sounds vaguely Shakespearean then that is because it is. It's Antonio's oath to Viola in Twelfth Night.

I made this print earlier this year for a specific show at Bankside Gallery  which was to celebrate William Shakespeare’s life and legacy, marking the 400th anniversary of his death. Artists from the
Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers were invited to produce
 works inspired by Shakespeare’s writings.

I decided on Twelfth Night, not a play I'd read or seen before, but I thought it would be a nice  to learn a different play, rather than go back to the ones I've studied before. No idea why I chose this particular play but I'm certainly glad I did. Twins separated by a ship wreck, cross dressing, cross purposes, mistaken identities and of course the troubled path to true love - and also it's very funny.

     I chose to relocate the story from the city of Illyria to a minor public boys school somewhere in the North of England in the year 1959.

A secret society has been formed by a few boys from the school's sixth form.The boys don't necessarily all seem to be close friends? but they all share a love for Shakespeare and at night they secretly perform his plays in the school's grounds. The sixth formers perform the male roles but the female parts are played by their favourite boys from the lower form, in doing so they are unintentionally alluding to the historic use of boys playing the female parts in Shakespeare's time. The relationships and actions of the text seem to curiously mirror the events in the boys own lives.

Another Country, 1984

 Whilst writing these scenarios I kept being reminded Julian Mitchell's play Another Country ( which was made into a film in 1984 ) and of course Lindsey Anderson's incredible film If (1968) also came to mind. Neither film perhaps showing boarding schools in their best light...

IF, 1968

The one scene that struck me as being most the interesting to illustrate was Act 3, Scene 4 when Antonio confronts Sebastian, who is in fact Sebastian's twin sister Viola disguised as a boy.

It's an odd moment because up until then the play has been a comedy of errors, but with the appearance of Antonio a real sense of anger and violence occurs. Antonio first appears in a short scene in Act II, he is a Sea Captain who rescued Sebastian ( Viola's twin brother ), from the ship wreck. My reading is that he is obviously in love with this young man, in a very possessive way. In the scene I depict; Antonio mistakes Viola for Sebastian so that when Viola refuses to return him the money he lent he becomes furious and speaks like a rejected lover, it was this speech that gave me the idea for setting it in a boy's boarding school - it had something of that weird cloying quality that can happen to friendships in that hothouse environment.

Once I made that decision the characters came very much to life. The most obvious to me is Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek who comes across as one of those pretty but dumb boys from well off families, tall and floppy fringed. Fabian; however is the real main character as far as I'm concerned. He strikes me as one of those charismatic creatures who seems to know everyone and seems to be in on everything and yet has the ability to slightly distance himself from it all. A ringleader but one who operates with sleight of hand.

Getting it down on paper

I started of with a very quick thumb sketch, the scene is populated with six characters, and one of them (Antonio) has to be physically restrained by two guards, which immediately conjures up a very complicated composition one that can only be resolved by using real models.

Fortunately I work at a place that provides me with my very own life model agency !

working that 1959 vibe
initial sketch

    One evening after work I manage to coax  my  models into posing for all the different  figures in my composition - turns out they    are all born naturals, and after an hour of  shooting I had all the poses I needed.
The drawing itself took ages to get right - really cant remember ever having spent so long on one drawing, and I've no idea.why ? I guess that's how it goes sometimes ?

several vanishing points ??

Couldn't get the perspective right at all, and
at one point I was reduced to pinning strands  of cotton thread all over the picture to try and find the Vanishing Point - I had so many loose threads hanging down from drawing that it looked more like one of those macrame hangings that you'd used to put your  potted ferns in...

Finished drawing

As I said before, the scene is set in 1959 so I didn't want any glaring anachronisms. Early on I knew I wanted Fabian to have a transistor radio, I felt that he would have his own separate soundtrack - that he would use his transistor radio as a device to remove himself from the action around him, with it he could physically and mentally tune himself out of the action.

  I thought that if I showed him in the act of removing the radio's ear piece whilst watching the quarrel between Viola and Antonio it would show his rather jaded curiosity being stirred - here's finally something worth listening to !
In their time Transistor Radios were incredibly popular - their heyday being the 60's and early 70's, but they would have been hard to find in England in 1959. However, they would have been common in America, and that suits my story as Fabian's father works in Washington and hardly ever sees his son, so he tries to make amends by sending him expensive presents instead - much to the envy of the other boys.

Anyhow, just a few ramblings on my latest etching which will be on show at Bankside Gallery from 9th November to 20th November as  part of  The Masters / Etching exhibition curated by Norman Ackroyd RA RE.