Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Still life drawing at the Estorick

The outside gate to the Estorick on Canonbury Road
Yesterday found me at a still life workshop at the Estorick Collection of modern Italian art. I love looking at still life painting and occasionally try doing some but I don't really feel that I know what I am doing so I hoped this workshop would shed some light on its mysteries.

This workshop, which was the first of two free workshops, was organised by the Stuart Low Trust in partnership with the Estorick. There is no charge and anyone can join in. The Stuart Low Trust (SLT) is a health promotion charity based in Islington, north London. There were about 14 of us all told: some people were clearly old friends and others were there for the first time. The Stuart Low Trust regularly run all sorts of social events from gardening to days out and a philosophy forum.

Before we put pencil to paper we were treated to a tour of the current exhibition of Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life. He lived from 1911-1987 and is one of Italy's most widely respected modern painters and I have to admit in my ignorance this was the first time I had ever heard of him. We were told that during Mussolini's rule, which lasted for more than 20 years, artists were very constrained in what they were allowed to depict.

Guttuso, who was Sicilian, railed against these constraints and chose instead to chronicle the deprivations of the ordinary Italian citizen in paintings full of symbolism that if you take the time to read carefully are very revealing. We spent some time studying one painting with an upturned and empty bird cage, a candle holder with no candle, a light bulb that wasn't on, a wicker basket with no food in it and an animal skull. This all implied austerity that had been endured for a long time.

Now it was our turn to assemble a still life and I ended up in a small group who worked from the same set of objects and, hey presto, it included an animal skull. I present here one of my initial drawings in graphite where we 'took a line for a walk'. Now I've worked on this I hope I will have the courage to complete an unfinished still life of a rose and some fruit on a plate.