Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: life drawing

eBaying off the life work

A while back, in a post on Alan Wycliffe Wellings, I lamented affectionately all the eBayed leftovers from life drawing classes, most headed, ultimately, for that great gallery at the landfill. I’m not being snobby; I’ve been clearing out folders full of life drawings myself, and it’s nearly all gone in the bin. (A great sheaf of drawings featuring male models went long ago to a gay friend; I’m not sure exactly what purpose they may currently serve.)

Yes, I’ve haunted some life rooms in my time. It’s a valuable discipline; it’s important that we continue to construct images, by observation, out of marks, especially when fine art degree courses now seem to award the photographic image a monopoly of virtue, as if it were somehow more authentic. When the reverse is clearly the case.

But life work can be bloody aggravating. Most classes I attended were cluttered up by annoying geriatrics (and I speak as a pensioner myself) who signed up year after year, but whose work never improved in the least. And who hadn’t the least intention to improve it.

Some, frightened of the scale and verticality of the easel, disdained it, laying flat their A3 pads on unnecessarily massive donkeys plonked right in front of the model. God forbid they should ever have been obliged to wrestle with a side or back view, and heaven strike down any optimistic and tactless tutor who tried to confiscate their HB pencils and get them onto charcoal. Some routinely chattered all session through about where they would be going on holiday this year and what they’d had for tea, making concentration impossible for everyone else, but coming on all victimised if ever asked to pipe down. I stalked out of the last class I ever did, after asking the worst offender if he’d mind shutting the **** up, and that’s not like me. Well, not much, anyway.

The high point of this purgatory involved a donkey codger who huffily refused the most basic guidance on matters of proportion, and whose drawings, as a result, were always hilariously top heavy. Redrawing and re-erasing the model’s legs week after week, he finally solved his problem by sketching her into a pool of water from the mid-thighs down. This lateral thinking was much admired by his mates.

Anyway, here’s pretty much what I’m left with. (Click to enlarge.) The girl pushing out her bum is Natalie from Aldridge, who was the best model ever. The upside down reclining person is a pleasant woman whose name now escapes me, but I did leave out her breast tattoo and nipple ring. (I’ve found that piercings are a distraction when you’re trying to even out your attention across all parts of the body. Male models with a Prince Albert should definitely be banned.) The big canvas with two figures involved a mirror, of course.

Rimg0018Actually, the two single figure images are currently up for grabs if anyone’s interested – go here and here. They start at merely a tenner on – you guessed it – eBay …

Back to life with Alan Wycliffe Wellings

The “drawings” category of Ebay’s art listings is crowded out with old life studies. (They even outnumber the hopeful but hopeless Picasso fakes.) It’s sad, really. Pencilled and charcoaled ladies with their kit off (and the odd gent) from a variety of past decades, once laboured over in the life rooms but now unloaded onto the market in folders full. Mostly mediocre student stuff, and probably destined for the recycling bin, despite the occasional optimistic tag of “erotic interest”.

alan wellingsBut this one seemed worth rescuing for the price of a takeaway.

The artist is the teacher and illustrator Alan Wycliffe Wellings, born in Pattingham, near Wolverhampton – just a few fields away from me – in 1910. By 1926 he was at Wolverhampton School of Art, where at the age of 15 he was among the top eight candidates nationally in the Royal Drawing Society examinations, as reported in this cutting from the Wolverhampton Express & Star. (For another distinguished alumnus of the Wolverhampton School of Art, see the Annesley Tittensor page above.) Wellings went on to the Royal, and then taught at the Eastbrook School for Boys in Dagenham, which enjoyed a progressive arts curriculum at the time. By the late ‘forties he was at South East Essex School of Art. He died in 1985. A folder of his life drawings turned up a month ago at an Essex auction house, the buyer promptly turfing them out onto Ebay.

This one isn’t dated, but other pieces in the folder are said to be marked from the ‘thirties. This may date from Wellings’ time at the Royal, though the pen and ink style, with its dashed lines of shading and rather risky employment of a wide range of nibs, wouldn’t have looked out of place twenty years later. There is no under-pencilling; Wellings put the image down directly from observation, squatting at his donkey, resulting in a number of prominent alternative lines which, as in all best drawing practice, co-exist as successive thoughts and build to a vibration, rather than something “accurate” from which the life has been erased.

footThe figure is given a subtly neo-classical feel which might be a faint but knowing nod to Picasso’s drawings of around 1923. And the generosity of the limbs is certainly in that area. My favourite bit is the foot on the floor – you have to admit, that’s one hell of a foot!