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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Charles Darwin portrait, finished.

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The Man from The Mount (Charles Darwin)

My textile portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), is part of my series of ‘Cultural Hero’ portraits, including William Morris and W. G. Grace.

I chose Charles Darwin to be part of my series for many reasons including: he was a very cool naturalist, he had a great beard, he was born in Shrewsbury (where I am from) and he had a very interesting life! Simply, he has always been a hero of mine.

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Charles Darwin portrait, first phase.

When I am working on a portrait, I never have a finished overall plan of how it is going to look. It evolves, over time as I am working on it. I tend to do quite a lot of background reading and like to find out more about the person, where they lived, so that I can drop in links to their background in the portrait. So when I first start, I machine sew the initial portrait onto white cotton, then paint it with tea!

Phase 2 Charlie

Charles Darwin, with hand stitched background.

The background was drawn on and hand sewn, it includes images of the Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice butterfly which he found 1834; Scymnobius Galapagoenis found in the Galapagos in 1831; the Vermillion Flycatcher, also found in the Galapagos and sundew heads, which are found near where he was born at The Mount, in Shrewsbury.

Phase 3 Charlie

Working on a tapestry frame, hand sewing and painting the details.

Once the lines are stitched, I start to paint in with acrylic whilst working on a tapestry frame. This keeps the textile portrait taught, as I am not working on a canvas and the fabric would very easily start to shrink and stretch in all the wrong places.

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Vermillion Flycatcher, Charles Darwin portrait detail.

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Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice. Found by Charles Darwin in Chile in 1834.

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Detail showing the Scymnobius Galapagoenis (the Ladybug Beetle) and Sundew heads, embroidered onto Charles Darwin’s cloak.

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Detail from Charles Darwin portrait.

Since finishing my portrait of Charles Darwin, I have started again working on my portrait of the War Poet, Edward Thomas, which I hope to get finished by the middle of March, ready for the anniversary of his death during the First World War, on April 9th, 1917.

 

Artist Residency Day 13 at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

In the last few days whilst my ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition has been open, many of my Swedish visitors have also been keen to make their ‘Green Pledge’. During this time I have also been busy making more from the list of pledges I brought from Newcastle.

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Visitors to Bergby Konstcenter making green pledges.

I have been using local resources to make some of the pledges, including milk cartons, plastic bread and chocolate wrappers. Helen and John the artists who run Bergby Konstercenter have also made a pledge to be hung with the others.

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‘I am making a compost in my garden’.

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‘Here I write my solemn pledge to grow and eat organic veg.’

Visitors to the exhibition seemed to really enjoy looking at the craftsmanship in the environmental textile pennants, from the heavy embroidery to intensively worked beading and the sentiment in the poetry. It was extremely heartening to hear the very sincere feedback.

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A local bee keeper and her daughter looking at the ‘ Life giving bee’ embroidery.

Talking to the visitors, asking them to also make a ‘green pledge’ has made me really think about taking this project so much further. The exhibition of the work produced during the residency is going to Gateshead Old Town Hall in September and October but I feel I would like to continue encouraging people to make pledges, so that the number of pledges made grows past the 50 we have so far.

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‘I will eat less dairy and milk.’

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‘I will recycle more’.

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‘I will try to raise awareness with my friends about the issues of sea creatures’, by Rosie age 13.

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Visitors to the exhibition.

If you would like to be a part of this project, please get in touch. You can just write a green pledge which I will make for you or you can make your own to form part of the growing numbers of green pledges made so far.

Residency Day 11 -exhibition openning day!

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Bergby Konstcenter.

After lots of work, the ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition is ready to open. With over 36 ‘ Green Pledges’ made so far by over 20 people, three large textile pieces,  4 environmental sculptures and 4 painted artworks, plus the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery with over 40 pieces on display. All responding to the challenges which face the environment today.

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Häxors Trosor embroidery.

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‘Life giving bee’, embroidery.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

 

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Optical Telegragh – Imaginary Messages.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, embroidery.

I shall blog the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery separately as it is part of the two week ‘Digital Detox’ the children have been having!

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Watercolour and pen pictures of local birds.

 

So far, the exhibition has been very well attended but I must get around to taking photos!!

Residency days 7 & 8, at Bergby Konstcenter.

Sunday and Monday have been very intensive sewing days, like all my pieces for my residency, the ‘Sea Juggernaut’ has been very heavily worked.

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Reverse side of ‘Sea Juggernaut’ – a sperm whale.

This piece represents the issues facing creatures living in our seas: pollution (chemical and waste), sound pollution, over fishing, climate change etc. Over the years many whales have died on beaches across the world due to these environmental issues and this year, 18 sperm whales washed up on beaches in Germany. When they were autopsied, they were found to have in their stomachs: 43 foot of shrimp nets, plastic parts from car engines, even buckets inside them, as well as many other unusual objects. They were young whales who had died from heart failure.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, beaded, machine and hand embroidered textile hanging at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

The textile piece I have been making whilst at Bergby Konstcenter is heavily beaded and embroidered. It also has lots of ‘found’ objects seen into it, to highlight the disposal of waste from our over consumption. In the textile piece I have sewn in items such as plastic nets used for packaging fruit, items found on the floor such as a tiny ships wheels and anchor buttons!

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Mini ship’s wheel found on the floor outside a local ‘Loppis’.

Within the piece I have embroidered and beaded creatures of the deep, plus also loosely beaded the sea, these are both to represent real and synthetic things found in the sea (like microbeads used in cosmetics).

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Detail showing beaded and embroidered sea creatures as well as stiched poetry.

Each sea creature is unique and took many hours of sewing. One, I have also linked to flowers found in Carl Linnaeus’s garden, as I was keen to make links to this great Swedish scientist who was the first to use the Latin classification system for plants and animals. Within each of these pieces, the animals latin name is also stiched into the picture.

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Detail of beaded sea creature.

Each of the pieces made as part of the ‘Häxors Trosor’ (witches knickers) residency, work on many levels and as part of this piece ( and the others) a poem is stitched through:

Sea Juggernaut 

 

Dive down deep, deep down

Where the nocturnal day or night light

Eclipses the sea juggernaut.

Though, the salty sea stars

Still shine spiral bright.

 

Dive down deep, deep down

In search of balloon bursting, rich tasting

Stringy limbed squid

Sea Juggernaut penetrates past

To wrestling octopus hid .

 

Dive down deep, deep down

To find a pea souper, stomach filler

Of man’s eternal waste,

An all you can eat sea buffet,

Of gut corroding, life stealing bait.

 

July 2016

 

Residency Day 5 – The Loppis

I’ve already mentioned how great the Swedish ‘ Loppis’ is – a second hand shop which you find on the side of the road. But Helen and John had told me about a really big one which is about 10 minutes away from Bergby Konstcenter. As I am now at the point of thinking about how to ‘ back’ my sea juggernaut picture – and there was only so much fabric I could bring – a place where I could pick up recycled fabric would be great!

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A homage to the Loppis.

The Loppis we visited was inside a large barn – wish I had taken more photos – and an absolute treasure trove. For me, I got excited by the colourful fabrics, handmade lace, embroidered and crochet work. But if you needed any kind of household equipment, toys, clothes, furniture, books, etc, you were sorted and they were all good quality.

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Today’s purchases from the Loppis.

Some of my finds are beginning to make their way into my work.

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Tiny ship’s wheel that I found on the floor outside the Loppis in Bergby.

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Anchor button bought as part of a collection of blue buttons. The anchor is the symbol of this area.

This idea of sensible thrift really works with the whole feel of my ‘Häxors Trosor’ project. Humanity generates so much waste. I found an interesting quote a couple of days ago when making a new ‘ Green Pledge’:

“Earth provides enough to satisfy everyman’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi.

Residency Day 3 at Bergby Konstcenter

An early start down the studio this morning – in by 8 am. The ‘Sea Juggernaut’ piece I am working on is very labour intensive, very much  ‘slow art’. But I do enjoy spending hours beading and embroidering.

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Beaded sea creature.

Later in the morning we went visiting some of the local coastline, islands and artists.

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Albert Engström’s Art Studio

Possibly my favourite place so far is Albert Engström’s artists studio on the edge of the sea at Grisslehamn, which is only about a 5 minute drive from Bergby Konstcenter. It is now  a museum but you can see how the artist  (who I believe died in 1940) felt so inspired to work there. With a beautiful forest walk with glimpses of the sea through the trees, past the unusual optical telegraph communication hub – used in Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries – then onto the sea. There is a beautiful little cove, with islands, sand and rocks to perch on.

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Geoff and Violet sketching by the sea.

We moved on and drove around the islands up to Singö, travelling over pretty bridges, stopping at Singö church.

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Singö church.

On our return to Bergby, we popped in to see a local artist whose gallery was open this week. Her gallery is called ‘Fru Strids’ ( I need to check the translation!) and her name is Kicki Jonsson. There was work by a sculptor called Annika Alm in bronze and carved stone. Violet was very taken with her work. Hopefully, Kicki is going to pop by when my exhibition will be on next week at Bergby, as she is a fellow textile artist working on intricate embroidery.

 

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Entrance to Fru Struts gallery. 

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