Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Beautiful Budapest 2

Beautiful Budapest 2

I have had another pleasurable week in Beautiful Budapest.  On the the Monday it rained, which pretty much killed my opportunities to draw.

But from the Tuesday onwards the weather gradually improved, and in the next four days I had plenty time to make more sketches.  I continued on a theme started during my March visit when I tried to investigate the city through its sculpture and lampposts.

In front of the the restored Eastern Railway Station is this statue that in Dec 2013 reappeared from hiding.  It represents the forgotten "iron minister" Gábor Baross (1848 – 1892) who consolidated the Hungarian railway network and was an unbending Minister of Commerce during Hungary's years of prosperity.  He must have been a remarkable man to have achieved so much for his Country in a life that only lasted 44 years

Hungary is keen to reinstate and remember these heroic figures from the cultural and economic renaissance that the country experienced during the decades before the First World War.    

The good times ended abruptly after Hungary sided with the losers of World War One.  In 1920 she was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon (1920) that required her to surrender 72% of her land which included her important mineral resources, her industrial heartlands and the sea ports in Croatia. The treaty also took away 5 of her 10 biggest cities.

The Treaty of Trianon separated three million Hungarian speakers (Magyars) from their motherland.  

In the run up to the Second World War Hungary was promised her lost territory back if they again sided with the Germans.   Hungary, whose embittered political leaders were right wing and anti-Semitic, enthusiastically entered the war and sent her Armies to fight alongside the Germans in Russia.  Initially they were successful but later her divisions were sucked into the siege of Stalingrad where they were annihilated.  In  March 1944 Hitler was worried about rumours that the dispirited Hungarians were secretly negotiating  peace terms with the allies, he ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary   This occupation has been commemorated with a new statue that was secretly commissioned by the Hungarian Government and erected overnight on the 20 July 2014

The bird is said to be the German Eagle (which is confusing to my eyes because it looks like the Hungarian Turul bird) which is swooping down on the innocent Angel Gabriel who is about to drop the orb of the Hungarian State.  In front of the monument protesters, many of them relatives of the victims of genocide that happened in the months following the German occupation, have erected a huge broken mirror (a symbol of hypocrisy)  Other relatives have come and put down thousands of little stones to remember the dead, there are pictures of lost family members, broken chairs and abandoned suitcases. The protesters point out that the anti Semitism started before the occupation and that many politicians warmly welcomed the occupying forces.

In the year of occupation, between March 1944 and the end of the war in April 1944, nearly half a million Hungarian Jews, gypsies and gays lost their lives.  The genocide began to happen in Budapest after the authorities recognised the war would end before they had enough time to transport all their intended victims to the death camps.  The prisoners  were lined up along the banks of the Danube and ordered to strip before being shot.  Their bodies fell into the river and floated away leaving their shoes and clothes as the discarded evidence of the atrocities that were taking place in the city.   The protesters directed me to the banks of the Danube where there is a more appropriate monument.

Hundreds of old shoes have been cast into bronze and fixed to the paving stones.  This monument is moving, and it remembers without blaming anyone.  Many Hungarians hid the Jews and gypsies in their attics, others behaved badly.  Until we suffer it ourselves we cannot know how we would have behaved in Budapest in 1944-5.

The ending of the Second World War did not bring Hungary's misery to a close.  Hungarian soldiers could not return home, men were kidnapped from the streets of Budapest to be taken to Russia to be used as forced labour, the persecution of the Jewish communities still went on.  In 1956 the Hungarians rebelled but the uprising was brutally squashed by the authorities with Russian assistance.  The futile attempt to end Hungary's suffering from under the yoke of communism and totalitarian government is commemorate in front of the gorgeous restored Parliament Building where the bullet holes in her walls from the fighting are proudly preserved and displayed.

Further along on the Pest side of the Danube another statue overlooks Budapest.  It is huge, monumental, Soviet and called Liberty.  She carries what looks like fern leaves over her head.

Ironically the castle like building below was once used as a prison (or so I was told by a local).

The walls of Budapest are covered with sculpture, many from a much earlier age. The sculptural quality is not always masterful, but the compositions are often beautiful.  I enjoyed drawing the entrance of St Michaels which was built in about 1720.  Mary has a gold crown on her head and the infant Jesus has a gold halo with stars.

and the painted angels inside this church are also worth looking at

As I was drawing a service of remembrance was about to begin, an old lady arrived surrounded by her family who were all smartly dressed in jet black.  I felt they were unhappy with my presence so I removed myself, a little later I returned to attend a concert of baroque music.

Outside St Michaels is the bustling street with cafe culture and boutiques.  Franciska, smiling and young, was dressed in traditional folk costume and

ushering the smartly dressed passers-by into her shop

baskets of green foliage and red geraniums were hung from the street lamps 


and more planters decorated the cafe bars 

where maids were serving drinks

to gentlemen

and tables of gossiping students

I sat at one such table sipping coffee and drawing the trees in pots

and people across the way who were chatting on benches 

 and children passing with their parents

and a  monument made of warm stone could be seen in the distance

and short stroll away I drew another religious monument with Jesus on a pillar, his head haloed with golden stars

Our tour of the statues has taken us along the bank on the Pest side of the river.  Into a district with a  huge covered market and Turkish baths, but I do not have time to show you those.  Instead I have more coffee and watch the children in another play area.  There is a Turkish child with beautiful eyes

and this little boy with wispy fair hair

A far better place to draw the children is Margaret Island which is a huge island park (2.6 km long and 500m wide) in the centre of the Danube;  I know this place well from my visit two years ago. This is one of the splendid lamp posts on the bridge to Margaret Island

In the 13th century King Béla made a vow to send his daughter, Princess Margaret, to a Dominican nunnery if God would allow him to rebuild the country devastated by the Mongols.  The Ruins are still to be seen.

Recently they have created a fountain which has perhaps a hundred spouts that are controlled remotely and linked to music.  To imagine this you have to think of a firework display with water, but better!

Here is a you tube link

I drew this little boy who was waving his hands to the music

Of course the families come here to relax

There is an Open Air Theatre, swimming pool, formally laid out gardens and a Japanese Garden.  

After a dental appointment I sat amongst the red squirrels and drew the children looking at the ducks. 

When I am alone in Budapest I always spend my evenings in the square in front of the Basilica.  There is a place where I perch on the edge of a fountain and draw the crowds of young people who visit the wine bars in the area.

The fashion is to buy a bottle of wine and carafe of water to make spritzers, like this lady has.

It is a very beautiful place to be, the air is still and the buildings around majestic.  One evening they were using the Basilica as a background for shots of a bride and groom.  I had the strong impression they were paid models and the photographs were for a magazine or marketing literature

The young people of Budapest have grown up in a post communist world.  They will have been told stories of the hardships their parents generation had to endure, a bit like the baby boomers of the sixties they have seen  an austere serious world brighten up, widen and become liberal.  The centre of Budapest is opulent, there is conspicuous money, Ferraris and Maseratis.   

I am told that there is a lot of political corruption and jobs are very hard to find (3 million unemployed).  In this way Hungarians are not like we were in the sixties, the young Hungarians I met in Budapest know to spend their money carefully and prepare themselves for the future.

Through my drawing I do sometimes get to meet the people I am drawing.  This is Timi

Timi was with four girl friends.  Like all in the crowd around them they had dressed up for the evening and were sharing spritzers and were self contained.  When I returned to Britain I emailed her a copy of this drawing and this is how she replied: 

Dear Julian,

I'm so thankful to you for creating this drawing and sending it to me. It was a pleasure to meet you and see how much you enjoy what you do. You bring a little joy to some lucky one every day and it happened to me as well.

Thank you so much,


This is not the voice of a baby boomer

In the sixties we talked up the generation gap.  We grew our hair long to define ourselves and annoy our parents and did not worry about being out of work..  I have no idea how the older Hungarians are getting along with the new generation who live in a world so completely different from what they knew when they were young.  Budapest is a place for young people who are modern and already making it in the world, it is benefiting from EU money being lavished on its lavish architecture which was itself made in a lavish era.  Budapest feels like a real place, but it is also a lavish display and pleasure garden, not a window into what is happening outside the city.

You can hire a smart centrally located apartment from my friends that will sleep up to 4 people for 3 - 400 a week .  The city is still inexpensive. This is their email address

Friday, 29 August 2014

My Early Experiances of Learning to draw

My Early Experiences of Learning to Draw

Whilst researching the material I needed for my last post, which was about my meeting with Kate Bush, I had to dig up archives and pull out old folios. I have been meaning to look at these old drawings for a long time because they tell an interesting story that others may enjoy. Having got the old images out I made a selection to scan and file in date order. 

At school I did A level art.  On leaving university in 1973 I decided I wanted to be an artist.  Luckily  in those days students left university with no debts, but I was penniless and had to spend a year saving money before enrolling for open drawing and sculpture classes at Sir John Cass Polytechnic of Art and Design in Aldgate, London.  I was 22 years old.

I still have the drawings from my first classes, I think this is from my first day

1 October 1975

I remember pulling out the drawings at the end of the day and looking at them: I was sort of astounded by what I had done.  I was astounded because it seemed to me that I was looking at something that existed in my mind, a hidden self that I had had no knowledge of.   I also understood that all the art I had done at school was not art at all, on that day I realised I had completely misunderstood the meaning of the word art.  It was a feeling of euphoria that has never left me.

Art is innate in every one of us, but the skills needed for some forms of high artistic expression are not natural to our minds, many of the necessary skills can only be learnt by rewiring our brains.  For example an artistic skill that is not natural to us is piano playing.  No-one is born a pianist, but some of us wire our brains to translate their emotional experiences through their fingers and the piano. We can take up piano playing at any time in our lives, but if we want to be a concert pianist we need to start the rewiring of our brains when we are children, no concert pianist starts training aged 22. 

I started to learn to draw very late in life. As the first term progressed I learnt how poor my spacial drawing skills were.   If I wanted to study sculpture I needed to put space into my drawing.   My inability did not depress me, but I did realise that spacial skills are very difficult to develop and I had to abandon any notions that I was talented.  The drawing skills I needed for sculpture were going to be very hard for me to develop.

Drawing in art schools often involves students standing around a model who is trying not to move, an impossible task for the model.  Being in an art school environment I went along with this approach to drawing.  The drawings I did on my first day had been spontaneous and satisfying, but if I wanted to make sculpture my drawings had be about analysing figures in space. If you compare my first drawing with this one made 18 months later you will see how space had begun to enter my drawing.  But drawing like this is a more long winded mechanical process.

I made friends with a Japanese student who had a much better feel for space and sculpture than I did.  He talked about something he called structure, I did not understand what he meant.  I was forever asking if my drawings had structure, and he always smiled and said my drawings were structureless.  A sort of arms race began between myself and Yoshi whose drawing technique was always light years ahead of mine. 

I had heard that Jacob Epstein had said sculptors should take time everyday to draw from moving figures.  I was dissatisfied with my work from static models which to my mind are not art.   With this in mind I went to the Dance Centre to ask if I could draw the students.  They kindly let me in and this is what my first dance drawings looked like during the summer of  1976

Whilst I was sitting on the floor of the ballet studios for hours on end making pages and pages of drawings like the one above I was always self-consciously aware that I was dressed like a tramp and my drawings looked like a mass of nonsense.  To be amongst the most sleek and beautiful girls I had ever seen in my life was like being in paradise, but I imagined the angels around me were thinking I was a bit unhinged, this made me painfully shy.  I knew I was being tolerated and rarely did one of the beauties approach or talk to me.

I was working to a plan, one that was very difficult for outsiders to see.  I was trying to prime my mind to build up models of the human body.  Each line was countered by a balancing line, rhythms stimulated rhythmic responses.  My drawing became a waiting game, I was waiting for my mind to wire itself up.  After a while this began to happen, and as you can see in this image done a few months later the figures is now there.

If I added wash the image becomes easier to identify

A teacher suggested smudging pastel to gain the shape before I added lines.  This was a good idea.

the bodies did begin to develop into more complex descriptions of the dancers forms.  This drawing is from the end of 1976
I began to fuse the techniques I had been developing at dance classes with techniques for drawing static figures.  This is a  5 minute studio pose dated Feb 1977


Longer poses involved much more measuring and analysis, like this one dated 1977

Yoshi was still criticising me for my structural weakness.  He was right,  the drawing above may look as if it could be a sculpture, but when I tried to make a sculpture the results were always very weak.  My problem was that my interest was always sucked into the detail, for instance the above image is obsessed with the detail of the undulating surfaces of the skin, the inner structure is being sacrificed.

This is another short pose, this time without pastel

June 1978
The pastel technique were coming into the long drawings too.    This drawing was made in about 1980
By 1982 my work was looking accomplished, but I knew my apparent understanding of space and structure were fraudulent.  Each of the drawings below takes about an hour to do because they are dependent on mechanical measuring processes, careful outlines and the pastel to hold the drawings together.  In these drawings I am using the pastel to cheat my way through, and they are not coming freely from my inner mind.  The model is also having to sit in static poses for long periods.  The whole process is useful for learning, but to my mind anti art.

Another interesting technique  I developed was to cover the paper with graphite and then pick out the highlights with a rubber and darker areas and boundaries with a pencil.

 At this time my dance drawings looked like this

Early 1980s

These dance drawings occupy space and in this respect they achieve one of my targets, but the image is heavy and the expression I was searching to express in the drawing is absent.  They do not reflect my inner experience of what it feels like to be a young man surrounded by beautiful women who have trained their bodies to be as fit and elegant as racehorses.
By now the small savings I had started out with were finished.  Yoshi had returned to Japan and the Dance Centre had closed.  My enrapturing art studies had been dependent on working on my father's farm during holiday periods and the small savings I had supplemented my earnings with were now gone.  A dance teacher kindly gave me £200 for some drawings, and this kept me going for another month, but otherwise I was destitute.  (I sometimes think that £200 was the most important £200 of my life)  

I am not sure what would have happened if I had not been invited to help another artist sell his etchings at a new weekend craft market that had started in Covent Garden.  I took some of my etchings and miraculously sold some.  The following weekend I hired my own stall, the hiring fee was £4 and I made £7 which I used to buy art materials.  A new chapter started in my artistic life and "career".

If someone had asked me in 1982 "Julian, can you draw" my answer would have been "No".  I knew my approach had missed something important, I continued my studies for the next 30 years and if at any time you had asked me if I could draw my answer would always have been "No".  It took me another two decades to fathom out what was wrong, three decades later I am almost at a stage of saying "yes", but that is another story for another day.



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kate Bush at the Dance Centre 1976 -7

Kate Bush at the Dance Centre 1976 -7 

Watching Newsnight this evening brought back memories of  1976-7.  This is how I remember those years!
In 1973 I finished my degree in Marine Biology which the tutors had charitably allowed me to pass.  The day I got the news that my academic career was over I made a bonfire of all my books (which were all unread) and a few weeks later I went to London to work as a security guard for about 70 - 90p an hour.  I worked 13 hours shifts, sometime 7 nights week.  After about a year I had saved, about £800 and, together with a £700 inheritance from my grandmother, I was rich enough to give up my job and start studying drawing full time. 

This is the drawing I made at my first life drawing class in 1975

An artist had told me that artists should draw moving figures everyday.  With this advice in mind I went to The Dance Centre in Covent Garden and asked the teachers to be allowed to draw their students.  They kindly allowed me in and after that I would go every day and draw from 10am in the morning until about 4.30, then I would rush off to open classes for drawing and sculpture at Sir John Cass in East Aldgate. 

One of the afternoon classes I used to attend every day was a freestyle contemporary dance class given by Robyn Kovak. One student who came every day had a very sensuous movement and all my attention became focused on trying to capture her movements.  Robyn noticed my attention and used to tell Kate Bush to dance in front on me.  

Tonight I went to find these drawings.  I have huge piles of drawings, so it was quite difficult to find material from so long ago, but I did find this one which is dated 14 Oct 76.  I am pretty certain it is Kate

After class I used to rush off to do more sculpture classes, and it seems Kate used to go to rehearse her music.  

Robyn must have quite liked me, I am not sure why, I was trying to live on a budget of 50p a day, I was very dirty and looked destitute, and my drawing was not accomplished.  One day she invite me and Kate to her flat to a small party.  After that Kate and I began to exchange a few words and I gave her some drawings.  

I think the last time I saw her was in December 1977.  We had coffee together and she told me her friends had gone wild over the drawings I had given her, so I gave her some more.  She told me about how she had been given money by EMI to study dancing and that she was about to release a record.  She promised to give me a copy after it came out

That Christmas I went to my parents farm to help them prune their blackcurrant bushes.  By the time I returned to London in January 1978  Kate had hit the number one spot in the charts. Of course we never met again. I was totally uninterested in pop music and unaware of her success, I think the first time I was aware of it was when my father told me about an exotic girl he had seen on the television.

This is a picture of me in 1978

I never did get my copy of her record.