Shoreditch Paintings

Emmy

The image above is of my good friend Emmy. We went on a trip to Shoreditch in London when it was FREEZING cold near the start of this year. I really love to work from photos I’ve taken, I think the memories associated with the photograph come through in the painting (or perhaps that’s just me!)

The illustration below is from the same trip, of the Gherkin taken on a misty morning.

London

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Florence

Florence

I painted this for my mum all the way back in August! I recently touched it up so I thought I’d finally scan it in to show you.

Tragically for me, I’ve never been to Florence, but I so enjoyed painting it! I’ll look forward to getting there one day.

Have you been to Florence?

Florence crop

 

Sketchbook Pages: London

trees
Playing with tree shapes on the train

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I went to London last week. It’s only about an hour away on the train from Leicester which is such a treat! London always feels buzzy, like something important is happening and people are achieving big things. This is layered with a thousand years of history all around you, knowing how much has happened there in the past too makes it really exciting for me! It’s an atmosphere I absolutely love soaking up.

This is without mentioning the museums!! The National Gallery is my favourite, of course, as it inspired my deep love of the Netherlandish Primitive style, and houses so many famous paintings that you see often in art history books.

Speaking of museums, the second image is a sketch I did in the National Portrait Gallery based on a painting of The Family of Sir Robert Vyner. I wanted to live in this painting when I was little! I think that the people look so real, it almost feels as though if you look closely enough at the painting you could get to know them. Apart from their clothing, can’t you picture walking past them in the street?

Trafalgar

I finished up by sitting in the Waterstones across from the Gallery, reading and sketching the outside. This didn’t take long but I really like it!!

 

 

Figure 9: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy

Underrated:

Hedy Lamarr is a classic case of the ‘Underrated’ segment of this illustration series. Although she didn’t talk about it much, it was known that she was interested in inventing (she had a miniature lab set up in her trailer for between takes). However, mostly she was recognised only for her looks, earning the title ‘most beautiful woman in the world.’

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler (1914-2000), Hedy began her film career in Germany when she was 17. She soon got married, to a weapons mogul named Fritz Mandl. Mandl soon revealed his colours as a jealous control freak, and reduced Hedy to the role of trophy wife, controlling her closely, only allowing her out of the house with a servant and controlling her tiny allowance. He even bugged the rooms in their house so he could listen in on her conversations.

Because of his job, Mandl entertained a lot of important men, and when the Third Reich rose to power he signed a deal with Hitler. He also entertained Mussolini. The upside to these dinner party companions is that Hedy was able to learn a whole lot about weaponry and war, which paid off… as soon as she finally escaped.

She took her chance when he went out of town, using the money she had squirrelled away to make her getaway to Paris, (possibly) dressed in the outfit of a maid who she had drugged. She continued on to London, and Mandl gave up his pursuit, deciding that divorce would probably be less effort.

There, she met Louis B. Mayer, president of Hollywood’s MGM studio, who proposed a contract with her. But it a pittance, and she refused. Despite this, she changed her mind, perhaps realising that she could really start afresh far away in America. Mayer’s ship back to the US was all booked up, so Hedy went back to her ingenuity, posing as a child’s nanny to sneak aboard the ship. This courageous (and nuts) act, combined with the appreciative looks her appearance gained from male passengers, persuaded Mayer to forge a new deal with her, quadrupling the length and salary that he had previously offered.

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However, she hated the way she was reduced to her appearance in Hollywood, with Mayer keeping her in mediocre, ‘exotic’ or temptress roles. She said ‘Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.’ Eventually she left MGM, and set up her own production company, which didn’t do so well.

While all of this was going on, she used her free time to do science. She turned her attention towards helping the war effort; she realised that to make planes fly faster, you could imitate the body shapes of the fastest fish and the fastest bird, a technique which still influences streamline designs today. In 1942, she and a composer designed a way of producing radio signals that couldn’t be jammed or intercepted by the Nazis. They submitted it to the army: they ignored it. It wasn’t used until the 1960’s, by which time the patent had run out, and she never made a penny from her ideas, which are the basis of mobile technology today. We wouldn’t have wifi without Hedy Lamarr.

Even today, in articles praising her, her work is passed off as ‘a hobby’ and ‘tinkering.’ I think that this is patronising and undermines her intellect. The attitude that beauty and smarts can’t go together is still so pervasive; it almost implies that it was a lucky break that lead to these landmark achievements. I’ve even seen the word genius put inside brackets, as though it is simply a quote and not a verifiable fact!! I know that it can be hard to be completely certain on this sort of thing, but I truly feel that a man in the same position would be praised to the heavens for being smart AND gorgeous – in fact, they absolutely would.

Her life was messy, and she was uncertain of which role she should occupy in her every day life; temptress or trophy wife or star or scientist? I think that this threw her off. I hope that if she lived today, she would no longer feel that she could occupy only one of those boxes at once.

 

For more about her great escape from her first marriage, click here

For a slightly patronising but otherwise nice article about her and the new documentary, click here

 

Figure 8: Mary Seacole

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Underrated: Born Mary Jane Grant in Jamaica (1805-1881), Mary spent her life travelling to different countries in order to try to save lives. Her mother owned a boarding house, and it was there that Mary learned traditional medicine and gained a reputation as a nurse.

She was also pretty entrepreneurial, opening a hotel with her brother in Panama in 1851 where she learned to treat cholera, as well as surviving the disease herself. She left to treat yellow fever in Jamaica two years later, and began to provide services for troops at this time.

Not long after she made the trip to England, where she heard about the issues facing the nurses on the battlefields of the Crimea. Mary went to several different officials, requesting admission to the front to provide her services, all of whom rejected her. She was even apparently rejected by Florence Nightingale, although this is still a big point of contention.

So Mary decided to make her own way there. She established a company with a relative, and set up a general store and hotel, and they were given permission to travel to Crimea. With her medicines, Mary nursed and cared for injured soldiers at military hospitals, where ‘Her remedies for cholera and dysentery were particularly valued. She earned the nickname Mother Seacole, and she became famous back in England thanks to a war reporter named W. H Russel reporting on her good deeds. Unfortunately, when the war ended her hotel and general store naturally failed, and he returned to the UK destitute.

But many people had not forgotten Mary, and an enormous benefit was organised to raise money for her by two former Crimea Commanders and lords. She continued to work, and was apparently rejected once again from helping during the Franco-Prussian war, as she contacted Florence Nightingale’s brother-in-law Harry Verney, who was closely involved in the British National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded. Mary spoke very fondly of Florence in her memoirs, but a letter from Florence to Verney referred to Seacole’s hotel as a ‘bad house’ and said ‘I had the greatest difficulty in repelling Mrs Seacole’s advances, and in preventing association between her and my nurses (absolutely out of the question).’

In recent times, it seems to me that both of these womens’ impressive legacies have been overshadowed by modern historians, politicians and newspapers attempting to pit them against each other. Every article I’ve looked at resorts to the claim that one or the other of these nurses were terrible and Bad and not worth remembering. Very little mainstream media seems to care that it’s easy to celebrate both women.

Mary Seacole portrait illustration

I feel that Florence had her reasons for rejecting Mary, living as she did in a time when almost anything could destroy a woman’s reputation. Mary had unconventional medical practices, and in a society that had only banned slavery around a decade before, and in the days of Empire, it was normal for white British people to look down on basically anything anyone did differently to them. While I wholeheartedly disagree with this world view, I think that holding Florence solely responsible for colonialist ideas is more than a little unfair, especially considering that a lot of men rejected her back in England too. It is a classic example of men pitting women against each other because they think that only one can be a saintly woman, the other has to be terrible, doesn’t she?

I also think that Mary has become a target of this drama due to the polarising effects of contemporary discussions on Brexit and immigration. For some, the fact that she has a statue outside a hospital at which Florence worked – and the fact that her statue is a tiny bit bigger than Florences (which by the way was installed over 100 years before Mary’s!) is a huge spit in the face for white people across the country – darned immigrants, stealing our jobs, healing our sick!!

This goes hand in hand with the attitude that acknowledging Mary’s accomplishments is ONLY being done to pander to PoC’s *insert comments about liberal snowflakes here.* They conveniently ignore the fact that the main reason People of Colour from history are only now being recognised is because we wilfully ignored their contributions in the past due to racism. People have gone as far as saying that she didn’t actually contribute anything, really, to the Crimea war, and therefore should not be celebrated, despite those nice quotes from W H Russel.

Which is funny because London has statues of the likes of George IV, ‘by all accounts the worst king Britain’s had’ and statues of animals who probably weren’t massive contributors to British society.

I think that Mary’s techniques were unconventional and possibly unscientific. But I feel that as long as she was helping people, as she certainly did, then she still absolutely deserves celebrating.

Further reading here.

Read a great article about the modern ‘feud’ here:

‘Even Natasha McEnroe, the director of the Florence Nightingale Museum, can’t understand the fuss. And pitting the two against each other is plain sexist, she says. “No one ever asks me to compare the work of two (male) surgeons in the Crimean War, yet it is always assumed that two women feud,”’

 

Figure 5: Nellie Bly

Nellie.jpgUnderrated: Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran (1864-1922), Nellie Bly was a famous journalist who shot to fame with sensational journalism such as ‘Ten Days in a Mad House’ and ‘Around the World in 72 Days.’ Through these reports she demonstrated her mental strength and determination, enduring extreme discomfort and harrowing conditions; not least in the ‘madhouse.’ But her efforts there were worthwhile, and led to social reform.

This is the work for which she is best remembered, but she continued to push for social reform for the rest of her life. Later in life she reported on women’s Suffrage and even became a war correspondent when she happened to be in Europe as WW1 broke out. It was during this time, while in Austria, that she became committed to helping poor women, children and orphans, and when she returned home she used her newspaper column to help find homes for abandoned children, and endevoured to provide childcare so that destitute women could work to feed their families. She worked so hard to help them that she made herself sick, and she died at the age of 57 of pneumonia.

Her most widely known legacy, of pioneering investigative journalism, is a wonderful one for her to have. But it’s a shame that most brief biographies say nothing at all of any of her work which exposed terrible conditions for workers or highlighting the struggles of the poor, even her work in war-torn Europe! Nellie Bly was sensationalist, but she was also sensational, and used her confident voice to expose cruelties done to others. What a wonderful model to follow.

Figure 4: Huda Shaarawi

Huda.jpgHuda Shaarawi (1879-1947) was an Egyptian feminist, whose activism helped to pave the way for a society which allowed women far more freedom than they had in the past.

Egyptian women at the time were subject to a harem system, which meant that women were made to be veiled and secluded from society, regardless of what religion they practiced. She worked to educate women, organising lectures which encouraged them to get out of their homes and opening a school for girls centred around academic rather than practical teaching. She was also involved in decrying British rule in Egypt after the first World War.

Huda is perhaps most famous for the act of publicly removing her veil in 1923, an act that was soon followed by other Egyptian women. Within a decade, most Egyptian women were choosing not to wear veils.

Huda continued to be an activist for the rest of her life until her death in 1947. She used her intelligence and strength to speak up for women, and to tell them that they have a choice; to wear what they want, to learn what they want, to live how they want. Huda continues to inspire Arab women to this day. I feel that Huda can fit into either ‘Underrated’ or ‘Overlooked’, as I had never heard of her before and I suspect many non-Arabs haven’t either.

My main source is this site, and another good article can be found here.

Figure 3: Truganini

TruganiniToday, on International Women’s Day, I have drawn a lady who, while overlooked outside of Australia, remains a topic of debate within the country. Trukanini/Truganani (c.1812-1876) Was a Tasmanian Aborigine. At sixteen years old, in an attempt to save her people from genocide inflicted by British colonisers, she worked as an interpreter for a man named Augustus Robinson to encourage native people to move to an island missionary. She believed this was their best chance at survival as many Aborigines, including her mother and partner were the victims of violence by colonisers, as well as the new diseases brought they brought across. In reality, Robinson’s promises came to nothing and he soon abandoned them when a better job came up.  Most of the people died on the journey and still more died on the island. They spent the rest of their lives under government supervision. Truganini ‘spent 20 years imprisoned, with other Aboriginal Tasmanians, on Flinders Island, and another 17 years in the Oyster Cove camp, south of Hobart.’*

Truganini lived into her sixties, seeing her people almost wiped out, and being treated as a scientific specimen as the supposed ‘last Tasmanian.’ She deeply feared what would happen to her body after she died, and this was justified, as after her death her body was put on public display at the Tasmanian Museum from 1904 to 1947, and for scientific viewings until the seventies. One hundred years after her death, the Palawa people, modern-day Aboriginal Tasmanians, were able to reclaim her remains, and she was finally put to rest.

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The cruel treatment of Truganini in life and to this day,  demonstrates the racist attitudes which shaped her life and the lives of Aborigine people.

‘Today they still face racist attitudes, and there are periodic incidents of violence towards them, particularly affecting those in police custody. Their generally poor living conditions mean that Aboriginal people have a far higher infant mortality rate and suicide rate and a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, and they make up a disproportionate section of the prison population.’ **

Colonisers did their best to wipe out native populations, and I hope that white people, myself included, will not let the shame we feel at the behaviour of our ancestors and an alarming number of our contemporaries, prevent us from raising up the voices of cruelly treated native people across the globe.

You can see some of the photographs taken of Truganini here. A brilliant article about her is here .

* Quote is from australianmuseum.net.au and has written a brief summary of her life in a far more succinct way than I have!

** quoted from https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/aboriginals