We’ve had a veritable feast of arts programmes on the TV recently including the three-part BBC series Great Artists In Their Own Words. The second in the series, Out Of The Darkness (1939-1966), included a brief look at the some of the Henry Moore Shelter Drawings. I was captivated and it prompted me to visit the current exhibition at Tate Britain.
Moore’s Shelter Drawings depict hoards of people huddled together (men, women and children) sheltering from the bombing of the Blitz in underground stations and suchlike. In total he created 300 pictures and they are apparently his best known and best loved works. Like many people I’m sure, I’d only been aware of his sculptures so this was a revelation to me.
There are two pictures currently on display – Shelterers in the Tube, 1941 and A Tilbury Shelter Scene, 1944. What attracted me to them initially was the way that Moore uses lines that wrap the body, almost like bandages around a mummy. The materials used are ink, water colour, crayon (or wax) and gouache on paper. The pictures have a quite a bit of texture (which you can’t see in photos) created by scraping at the wax and the mix of wax and gouache. I plan to experiment to see if I can reproduce this technique as this combination of detail and texture makes the drawings quite compelling.
It’s really striking how you can see sculptural forms emerging from these drawings in the simplified lines and the close relationships between the people. I really like the way the clothes merge with the bodies and the bodies merge with each other, filling the spaces.
There’s some debate and conflicting reports about whether Moore worked from memory, press photography or from discrete sketches made in the shelter. Does it matter today? The artistic world may once have frowned upon drawing from a photo but I don’t believe that’s the case now.
I spent over an hour looking at and sketching parts of the two pictures. This is a first for me as I doubt I’ve given any pictures more than five minutes in the past. It was definitely worthwhile.
The sculptures were nice too!