Navigating this project, was not plain sailing. It provided me with a lengthy and frustrating creative block. One one hand, I was simply struggling to draw, finding the act of putting pen to paper to be forced and requiring conscious rather than instinctual concentration and effort. The results were every bit as unsatisfying and clunky as this might suggest. Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was also failing to make any progress in gaining access to the inner wards and areas of the hospital that I felt would be the most rewarding and suitable for the project. I was constantly coming up against bureaucratic red tape. I'm sure this was feeding the sense that I couldn't relax into drawing.
In the name of inspiration and creative clarity, I visited a local book dealer and, whilst digging through the art section, I found 'Ecce Homo' (behold the man) a collection of drawings by George Grosz (an artist who I had a peripheral awareness of, at best).
Grosz was a German artist - often referred to as a cartoonist - a phrase which is probably both accurate and fair but one which I think undervalues his work. Ecce Homo, contains 100 drawings created between 1915 and 1922 in Germany (Grosz, who was vehemently anti nazi, would later relocate to the USA in 1932). We are shown a land and a society of excess and of poverty, of ugly sexual depravity and of violence. Figures wearing military uniform feature heavily as do suited and tie wearing businessmen and semi naked women - depictions, presumably of prostitutes and strippers. Ecce Homo does not give us a sense of a happy or healthy society.
In advance of beginning this project, my primary concerns and considerations were that I wanted to move beyond the safety of drawing from photography. That I needed to break away from creating 'good drawings' and allow myself to explore more responsive and gestural work. I think the discovery of Ecce Homo, was incredibly timely and important in the progress of this project. Grosz's work beautifully captures the essence, the ugliness and the pain of his subjects - both in terms of their physical selves but more significantly in terms of their part within a society that is struggling with it's own identity - coming, as it was, out of world war 1 and heading headlong towards another. There are no 'good drawings' in this book, only honest ones and it is, almost 100 years after publication, still held up as one of the most important bodies of drawing to come out of the 20th century. If I have fought to find the confidence that would allow me to rely upon loose, gestural and less studied drawing, Grosz's work in this book provided me with the extra helpings that I needed.
In looking into Ecce Homo, online and in other publications, at no point have I seen it listen or referred to as 'reportage' but of course that's what it is.
(Interestingly, I also bought a Ronald Searle book on the same bookshop visit and although Searle is an artist I am very familiar with, it was illuminating to find this newly acquired book made several mentions of Grosz's Ecce Homo, as a major influence upon Searle).
My copy is a 1976 reprint, unfortunately not this stunning 1923 original, of which only 10,000 were printed.
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