Friday, 15 November 2013

Black Bloomsbury

THE Slade School of Art in University College London was from the start renowned for its training in expressive figure drawing and painting.  Currently in the UCL art museum [aka print room] is a small exhibition curated by Gemma Romain that plucks from oblivion a diversity of students and models. who studied or worked at UCL in the inter-war period.  The painting by Ivy MacKusick on the easel [left] is a good example of the works : an unnamed model, whose life story before and after posing for students can only be guessed at; an artist of evident talent named Ivy MacKusick whose post-Slade life and work remain unknown, as do her vital dates ; and a canvas intended only as a study in handling paint that is the sole evidence of their encounter and their lives.  But UCL should be rather ashamed of the display space, which is crowded with tall cabinets and has very limited wall space, which is moreover lit by unscreened windows - all making for unsatisfactory viewing.  A shame, because the material is varied and fragmentary, suggesting further avenues of research.    See also here for one postgraduate response.

Not in the display, but in the UCL Art Collection, are some of the remarkable portrait sketches drawn by Prof. Henry Tonks, widely credited with giving Slade students like MacKusick their rigorous training in observational depiction.  During WWI, Tonks  worked with pioneer plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, in efforts to record and repair facial injuries, Tonks bringing all his draughtsman skill to render what we'd call disfigurement in an aesthetic rather than medical/surgical manner.
Here [right] is Nigerian-born Pte.J.Williams in 1917 before treatment for the loss of half the lower jaw.

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