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.

Isaac Rosenberg poetry poppy

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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National Poetry Day

Listening to the radio this morning, it’s wonderful to be hearing about poetry through the ages in Britain. Unfortunately, whilst rushing around, I know I’ll miss some of the celebrations for National Poetry Day but Radio 3 and Radio 4 will be reading poetry until 10pm tonight. Just wonderful!

Founded in 1994 by William Sieghart, National Poetry Day is to encourage reading, performing, promoting poetry in schools and to the wider community.

I have now started researching my fourth First World War poet portrait, which will be of Edward Thomas, then followed by W. N. Hodgson. But to celebrate National Poetry Day, my contribution is my portraits of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, if you ‘click’ on their names you will find links to their poetry to read.

Giclee prints of the Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits can be found in my Etsy shop (see link on top of the page).

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918, hand stitched portrait.

As part of my series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War, I have just completed my third hand stitched portrait. This portrait is of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

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.)

'Daughters of War' detail.

‘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, which doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war.

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.

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.

Detail from portrait of 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.

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

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

I have included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait it is in the space of no man’s land exists and he will never return to.

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.

 

 

William Morris stitched portrait.

SAMSUNG CSC

William Morris, ‘The Maker’, finished.

Since Easter, I have been working on a couple more portraits. My portrait of Isaac Rosenberg, the First World War poet has been started but put on hold until hopefully this weekend and whit week, when I might be able to get my teeth back into it. But, my portrait of William Morris has been a wonderful roller coaster ride and now it is finished. I do find I get obsessed by projects and therefore find it difficult to do other things which I am meant to be doing like feeding the children, working on ‘work’ projects, remembering to pick the children up from school…And this has been no exception!

William Morris, the beginning.

William Morris, the beginning.

I decided to make a portrait of William Morris for many reasons. The first being that I had so much fun with my ‘Green Man’ and his beard, I wanted to create another piece in which I worked in a similar manner. Secondly, because his body of work – poetry, writing, design, arts and crafts, hand-working, philosophy – inspire me constantly.

Acanthus leaves drawn onto the background of the finished sewn portrait.

Acanthus leaves drawn onto the background of the finished sewn portrait.

Unlike my war poet portraits, I wanted to ensure this portrait was full of colour, almost psychedelic but I like to keep the face of the portrait down to very simple expressive lines, which allows the viewer to create their own feelings about the character of the ‘sitter’.

Hand stitched acanthus leaves, painted with acrylic.

Hand stitched acanthus leaves, painted with acrylic.

I had a lovely time drawing out the acanthus leaves which were then hand stitched and finally painted with acrylic. The hand stitched is slow and methodical, but very meditative in nature.

Finished acanthus.

Finished acanthus.

Originally, I had intended to further embellish the acanthus leaves but I was so pleased with how they looked when I finished painting them, that I decided it would be rather ‘over egging the pudding’ if I did.

Waistcoat and shirt detail.

Waistcoat and shirt detail.

It was difficult to decide upon colours for his waistcoat and shirt, as obviously photographs of Morris were in black and white and in paintings he tended to be seen wearing dark, dull colours. So, I did some research on Victorian costume of the 1860s to try and get the right tones and colours.

'News from Nowhere' quote.

‘News from Nowhere’ quote.

Hand stitched around Morris’s collar is a quote from his ‘News from Nowhere’, a book which encapsulates his idea of utopian socialism.

Portrait stretched on a frame for painting and stitching.

Portrait stretched on a frame for painting and stitching.

Before choosing the colour of Morris coat, I painted his beard and hair in fabulous tones of orange and brown, only then could I decide upon his coat’s colour.

Hand stitched tweed.

Hand stitched tweed.

When I had finished painting his coat, I decided to hand over stitch a check, using colours I had already stitched into the acanthus leaves. You can see I also hand stitched oak leaves into his shirt – this is an ‘homage’ to his love of using the oak leaf also in his design and the William Morris designs often used in Liberty print shirts.

Detail of Morris's hair and beard.

Detail of Morris’s hair and beard.

The stitching on the shirt was the last piece of sewing to complete the portrait. The last two weeks, I have been busy getting the picture framed – I have chosen to use the same style frame I used for the ‘Green man’ – and to get my first set of Giclee prints done, which I am very excited about.

Giclee prints of my portraits.

Giclee prints of my portraits.

This weekend it’s The Late Shows in Newcastle and once again my studio is open, which encouraged me to promptly organise some prints of my work, as visitors had asked if I had any of my ‘War Poets’. I was absolutely delighted with the results and now just need to pick up the picture mounts and they will also be ready to then go onto my Etsy site, too.

'The Maker'.

‘The Maker’.

Centenary of the death of Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.

Extract from The Soldier, 1914.

Today, at 4.46 pm, 100 years ago, the poet Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia on a French hospital ship, moored off the island of Skyros, where he is buried. He was on his way to  Gallipoli to fight in that historic First World War battle.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

I decided to start of my series of portrait of First World War poets who died during the war, last year. I was actually trying to find the right inspiration for another project and I could never get the right idea. The ideas and imagery for the portraits came to me whilst on a long car drive. Since I was a teenager, I had loved reading the poetry of Rupert Brooke, my favourite poem being ‘The Beginning’. As a teenager, the fact that Brooke was a beautiful man, dying in tragic circumstances, also aided my admiration for him. By it’s an admiration for his work, that has never waned.

Hand stitched, the poem 'The Beginning'.

Hand stitched, the poem ‘The Beginning’.

The portrait of Brooke, was the first I completed. I have decided to keep the portrait quite ethereal, through the simple line drawing of the sewing machine to the delicate hand stitched details of his life. Upon his tie, I hand stitched the words of the poem ‘The Beginning’. Behind Brooke, as though a school map on the wall, is stitched a map of the World, with the words of ‘The Soldier’ stitched around it.

The poem 'The Soldier' hand stitched around the map of the World.

The poem ‘The Soldier’ hand stitched around the map of the World.

Throughout the portrait, I have stitched metaphors of Brooke’s life. Framing the picture is the olive leaves which are found in the olive grove where Brooke is buried. Hibiscus flowers and hollyhocks, symbolise his lost loves in England and Tahiti and the lilac flowers represent his famous poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.’

Hollyhocks and hibiscus flowers.

Hollyhocks and hibiscus flowers.

This weekend, there will be many events to commemorate Brooke’s life in Grantchester and Cambridge andThe Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner’ and new book written by Lorna C. Beckett is having it’s official book launch.

Close-up of Rupert Brooke portrait.

Close-up of Rupert Brooke portrait.

In Newcastle, the Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest contemporary art gallery, is currently exhibiting my portrait of Rupert Brooke, alongside that of Wilfred Owen, to commemorate Brooke’s death.

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits, exhibited at the Biscuit Factory.

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits, exhibited at the Biscuit Factory.

New Portraits

I have been itching to get on with starting some new portraits but time and other work commitments have been getting in the way. But over Easter, I have managed to start two. I thought, due to the way I work on them, it would be much easier to have two pictures running along each other, so whilst one is drying or I’m planning the next section I can get on with the other one.

Intensive preparation for my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Intensive preparation for my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

The first one, I have been planning since completing my portrait of Wilfred Owen in November. It is a portrait of Isaac Rosenberg , a First World War poet and painter who died on the 1st April, 1918. He is to form part of the series of portraits of War Poets, I am making. He is a fascinating character but at the time I didn’t know much about him, so I spent most of January reading the very in depth and interesting biography of him by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.

Isaac Rosenberg, machine line drawing.

Isaac Rosenberg, machine line drawing.

Within Rosenberg’s portrait, I intend to capture images of the Whitechapel Library, images of dancing women to evoke his poem ‘Daughter’s of War’ and other elements I have to finalise. As with the portraits of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, which I have completed and are now hanging at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, I intend to sew parts of his poetry into his clothing adding texture and visual metaphors.

My second portrait I have started working on is of William Morris. Morris has always inspired my work and way of thinking. The Arts and Crafts movement during the Victorian  period placed great importance on quality of fabrics, beauty in design and the quality of craftsmanship.

William Morris, the beginning.

William Morris, the beginning.

I work, initially creating the portrait using a sewing machine to ‘draw’ the lines and then I continue the portrait using hand sewn stitches which are slow and laborious but also very meditative. The portrait of Morris, will also be painted in acrylic then over stitched, using similar techniques to my recent picture ‘Portrait of a Green Man’.

Sewn line drawing complete.

Sewn line drawing complete.

Over the next month or so, whilst working on commissions for the Hancock Museum and printing some more lino prints, I shall also be working on my portraits, which bring me great enjoyment.

The Wilfred Owen Association

Just a quick post but I am delighted and proud to say that my hand stitched portrait of Wilfred Owen has its own page on the Wilfred Owen Association’s website. Working on his portrait has been a very moving and inspiring project. I have received the most amazing and supportive feedback from people who have seen the portrait in the ‘flesh’ at my studio and from the wonderful people who have seen it on the internet through my blog, twitter and Facebook all over the world.

The Wilfred Owen Association is dedicated to commemorating the short life of Wilfred Owen and his poetry.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Portrait of a Green Man. Finished!

Portrait of a Green Man

Portrait of a Green Man

This has turned into a much more detailed project than I had originally planned. Started as a portrait of my husband and just to be a ‘bearded man’, he’s evolved into something else. On some of my previous blogs, you will find the portraits I did of my daughters ‘The Three Sisters’, which are lively, include torn papers from books and mainly machine embroidered. I think, as this was meant to be a ‘warm-up’ piece before I went into war poet Isaac Rosenberg‘s portrait, I just became carried away and used some of the techniques I am using on that series of portraits.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of Robin.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of Robin.

During the winter, my husband does have a beard – he hates shaving and it keeps him warm when cycling to work! In the ‘Green Man’s’ beard I have sewn Rosemary, Violets and small pretty pink flowers, these are to represent our daughters and it was his idea to turn him into a green man – traditional in areas of England, seen often on Churches and pubs (how appropriate!) The flowers are stitched with embroidery silks, as are the books and the robin.

The Robin, as a good friend of mine said, is like the spirit of a friend or family member popping by to check on you whilst you tend the garden. Robin is also one of my husbands middle names. It is also, the most heavily worked area of the portrait. A sort of mini project within the portrait.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of books and cap.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of books and cap.

The photo above shows the detail of the ‘tweed’ cap, embroidered using sewing machine thread as I wanted it to be finer and not as ‘heavy’ as the silks would have appeared. It took this picture into the framers this morning and cap was the area the framer was very excited about – he looked like a cap wearing kind of man, too.

I love the books. Books are one of our passions at home and we do have a lot of antique books with lovely decorated spines. Once the outline of the books were machine stitched, I painted them with acrylic, hoping to get the lovely vibrant colours old, bound books once had – acrylic is also used a little on the beard and eyes. I had great fun deciding which designs to sew onto the spines of the books, what colour silk to embroider it with etc.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the words.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the words.

Originally, I had planned to find some lines from a book, a song or a poem to sew across the shelves, to express a little bit more about the ‘Green Man’ but one afternoon, while walking the dog, I put together this which seemed to sum up the feeling:

Living in,

Once Industrial City,

Green pledges,

Charge your crown.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the eyes.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the eyes.

As I have done with my war poet portraits, this picture was initially coloured with tea. This has given it a lovely, all over subtle tone and stronger, more stewed tea was used for the beard, eyebrows and shadows behind the books. I am also very pleased with how the eyes look, they are very tricky and I’m not saying I’ve got them ‘right’ but there seems to be a vibrancy and life behind them. They were initially painted with acrylic but the very last touch I made to the portrait was to add the flecks of white which travel around the pupil.

This morning I took the portrait to the framers and last night I entered it for the Royal Academy Summer Show – fingers very tightly crossed as annually over 12,000 entries are made for around a 1,000 places…

Portrait of a Bearded Man W.I.P

In preparation for continuing my series on War Poet portraits (Isaac Rosenberg next), I thought I’d ‘warm up’ my creative skills, which have had a bit of a Christmas slow down, and produce a fun portrait of someone near and dear. Hence I have started a portrait of my husband, who is a sometimes strange bearded man. He is finding the process a bit concerning, as with the way I work, it’s a slow build up before you can really see how it’s looking and a stitch line slightly in the wrong direction is slower to correct than a pencil line.

The initial process, is to create a machine sewn outline of the portrait, which was day 1’s work. Using my photos as reference, I tried to create the unruly shapes the beard makes.

Day One, machine stitched outline.

Day One, machine stitched outline.

Next, I worked on the face – which needs more work and a few wrinkles… – and the cap. The cap has been hand sewn in brown, fine thread to create the textures and weaves of a tweed style cap. The shirt and jumper have been machine stitched in. The shirt I intend to paint but the jumper may well be treated like the cap, with extensive stitching to represent knitted stitches.

Day Two, tweed cap, face and clothing.

Day Two, tweed cap, face and clothing.

Behind the portrait, I have decided to place book shelves, which we have spilling over in our house, and I thought they would be a great way to create biographical references of the sitter using the spines of the book. I have also started to turn the sitter into a bit of a ‘Greenman‘, he has Rosemary running through his beard and out of his nostrils and will have Violets, too.

Day Three, rosemary and book shelves added.

Day Three, rosemary and book shelves added.

Eventually, once I have finished the majority of the embroidery, I will then start to paint the portrait. I have not decided whether to use layers of tea dye, as I did with the War Poet portraits, or to use acrylic as I did on the portraits of my daughters. Each day, my plans change and new ideas develop.

Watch this space…

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), stiched portrait, finished

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

This has been a lovely portrait to work on. Through reading about his life, as research for the ideas to be represented in the imagery, finding out how near he lived as a young man to where I grew up, which I really hadn’t appreciated and realise how ignorant I was. I will need to sit down and put down in-depth information about the visual metaphors of the sun-dews, creeping buttercups, flying eagles, River Severn running through to the Sambre-Oise Canal, as well as the obvious fallen leaves (Autumn colours – some still young and green, others turning brown) on the Wrekin hill.

'Mental Cases' cap close-up

‘Mental Cases’ cap close-up

Close-up of uniform

Close-up of uniform

'Hospital Barge' River Severn and leaves close-up

‘Hospital Barge’ River Severn and leaves close-up

I had thought about added images of sand bags and trenches in the background of this portrait, but I decided that we are not about the way we died but the way we lived and I feel the two poems I have included in the portrait tell that part of Wilfred Owen’s story well enough.