Portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Death of War Poet Isaac Rosenberg

This weekend is the sees the 100th Anniversary of the death of war poet and artist, Isaac Rosenberg. Over the last few years, I have been working on a series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and here are photographs, with a bit of background about my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Rosenberg came from a deprived, working class background. His parents were pacifists who had fled from Lithuania so that his father could avoid conscription to the Russian Army, first moving to Bristol then onto the East End of London. He was the eldest son of Orthodox Jews and “for his part Rosenberg claimed that Jewishness gave him and his fellow Jewish artists ‘that which nothing else could have given’”. (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, ‘The Making of a Great War Poet’, page 3.)

Isaac Rosenberg

‘Daughters of War’ detail.

Rosenberg was a painter and a poet, he attended the Slade School of Art and trained as an engraver. Due to his background, he was automatically enlisted to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment (a Bantam regiment) as a Private rather than as an Officer, he therefore found that doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war and this is reflected in his poetry.

Isaac Rosenberg - Daughters of War.

Daughters of War

Within this portrait, I have used hand stitched references to his poetry and his life. A number of his poems I found very pictorial and as I was reading his biography by Jean Moorcroft Wilson as preparation for the portrait, I was noting ideas for imagery. One such poem was Daughters of War, which drove my I need to find a way to illustrate these ‘spirits’ taking the souls of the dead and dying soldiers to be their partners. I stitched frenzied figures dancing, with a section of the poem hand stitched around them.
The figures of the Daughter of War, also symbolise the soldiers who also dance around a flame in ‘Louse Hunting’. This poem depicts some of the terrible issues the soldiers had to put up with day to day, besides fighting in a war.

Isaac Rosenberg

Detail from portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘In the Trenches’ were two poems which I have also used to aid the composition of this portrait. ‘In the Trenches’ talks of a poppy at the top of a parapet, not far from the barbed wire of no man’s land, and the terrible aftermath of a shell with the poppy strewn on the floor.

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Detail from portrait, poppy on the parapet of the trenches.

I have also included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait Whitechapel Library is positioned in the place of no man’s land, where he would die.

Isaac Rosenberg, framed portrait at the Sage Free Thinking Festival, March 2018.

Framed portrait of Isaac Rosenberg at this years Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival, at the Sage Gateshead, March 2018.

Rosenberg died at dawn on the 1st April, 1918 during a German raiding party but his body was not recovered until the 16th April near Arras. His war poetry is now considered to be some of the finest from the First World War.

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Residency Day 2 at Bergby Konstcenter

The lovely, fresh Swedish country air encouraged a restorative lie in for all! Once we’d breakfasted, the girls and I spent a couple of hours in the studio, the girls painting and I was stitching.

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I am currently working on a larger embroidered and beaded piece of what I call the ‘Sea Juggernaut’ – a sperm whale.

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This piece is heavily worked and I’ve been working on it for a while. Yesterday at the local ‘Loppis’ (a type of second hand shop that you find unexpectedly by the side of the road) I found a very small boat wheel which I have also sewn into my picture!

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Openning up the upstairs of the gallery/studio!

In the afternoon, we popped down to a very pretty town called Norrtalje.

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Norrtalje Old Town.

Besides being a very beautiful town, we also discovered that every year the local council ask artists to create artworks to go in the river, these stay for six months and are taken away, then replaced the following Spring! Such fun! Some very beautiful and some which bring a smile to your face!

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Art sculpture – blame the GPS!

There are also sculptures on or by buildings.

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Whilst also pottering around Norrtalje, I also found some beautiful second hand Swedish fabric, which I might use in my next artwork. Plus on the journey back to the studio, I was delighted to see Marsh Barriers, storks and buzzards!

Late afternoon and early evening was spent in my studio. Such a wonderful place to be creating artworks.

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Life giving bee

The series of artworks I am preparing and making as part of my artists residency at Bergby Konstcenter  in Sweden are part of an interest and a need to make art which makes you question our right to be caretakers of our planet.

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‘Bee’ mini lino print.

I have been looking at the effects mankind has had on many it’s surroundings and the bee is a prime example of the onslaught it faces from habitat destruction, air pollution, climate change and pesticides.

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12 inch square, hand embroidered bee, sewn onto recycled fabric.

The worrying element, besides losing beautiful insects, is that bees are decreasing in numbers rapidly, yet they pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species which feed 90% of the World. If we are talking money, that is 30 billion dollars a year!

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The bee’s wings are made using recycled net from one of my daughters dresses, this is then appliqued on with hand embroidery.

We also need to also consider the knock on effect if we began to lose the plants which bees pollinate. The chain reaction will be felt by the animals which eat those plants and onto the animals/people who eat those animals…

Bee

Detail of the bee with embroidered poetry and flowers. The background has been painted with inks to create a ‘hive’.

In my work, I use traditional textile crafts, to create beautiful pieces which address issues close to my heart. This piece has been made using recycled/upcycled fabrics from children’s dresses and upholstery fabric, painted with inks and very slowly hand embroidered.

As a parent, I feel very strongly about helping the world to be a better place for my children to grow up in.

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Detail of the hand embroidered strawberry fruit and flowers.

My family are coming with me to Sweden and as part of my artists residency, my children and husband are also using it as an opportunity to be creative. They have been testing out their art equipment, planning what size paper to work on and looking forward to just being able to draw. My 8 year old has been researching environmental art and the work of Andy Goldsworthy .

At schools, there is less time factored into the curriculum to allow for artistic creativity, yet it acknowledged that is encourages us to ‘think outside the box’, look for new ways of addressing problems and it is very good for our mental health. Plus, we are not all going to be engineers. I am hoping it will allow us all a freedom to be creative which is rarely given.

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Finished ‘Life giving bee’ pennant.

One last fact to give you, which I found on the Greenpeace USA site, is that a single bee colony can pollinate up to 300 million flowers each day – remember, that’s the flowers of vegetables, nuts and fruit besides the flowers in our gardens and hedgerows!

Life giving bee

 

Pollen detector, avid collector,

Constant in your drive

Frequent flyer, hard wired

To a life giving hive.

Black bold, fierce gold,

From flower to flower descend

Pollen taker, food maker

May this never end.

 

Louise Underwood July 2016

 

Portrait project with Hadrian Primary School

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This picture is made by an extremely talented Year 4 pupil.

 

As part of the Drawing? exhibition at the Customs House in South Shields, Illustrated Stitch I was asked to work with a local school looking at the way I work, developing my portraits using drawing and stitching.

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I worked with 12 children aged between 5 and 11, who had been chosen as they all needed extra help developing their communication skills.

Through the discussion about the artworks in the exhibition, looking at how my portraits also used words and imagery drawn from a persons life, the children were encouraged to think about themselves and how they would like to be represented, what images they would use.

The two pictures above are made by young identical twins, one was interested in nature and bugs, the other robots.

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We worked together during two, one hour sessions, working with six children at a time, to ensure each child felt they had my absolute attention and I could help them throughout.

The children had photographs of themselves to work from. We worked on natural calico, drawing out the portrait, looking at scale, then discussing which areas the children would like to hand stitch to create extra detail.

On the second week, the children added more colour using pastels and painting parts of the fabric with tea.

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Once the children had completed their portraits, I finished they off by hand quilting sections of the portrait and creating a ‘frame’ with the stitching.

The portraits have all worked out beautifully, the colours and tones they have chosen, as well as the lovely lines they have used to draw out not only their wonderful portrait but also little key images which tell you a little bit more about themselves, are delightful. Such a fabulously talented group of very young people!