Saturday, 22 October 2016

Salon Voltaire: a Dadaist evening at Senate House, London

The spirit of Dada is resuscitated for a cabaret in the space which - according to folklore - was earmarked to be Hitler's London office. We are in the Chancellor's Hall in Senate House.

The brutalist Deco architecture has been modified for the evening with fairy lights, but don't get too comfortable: the building inspired Orwell's Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty Four, and my drawing of my eyes has been enlarged and stuck on the wall to give that Big Brother feeling.

Dada is 100 years old this year. Taking part in this evening of music and words are Hannah Thompson (the Leverhulme-funded sound artist in residence at Senate House Library - her final performance in her residency is on 24 November), Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute), Sarah Churchwell (Institute of English Studies), Catherine Davies (Institute of Modern Languages Research), Sadaf Fahim (Institute of English Studies), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Dominic Glynn (IMLR), Claire Launchbury (Institute of Historical Research/IMLR), Katia Pizzi (IMLR), Gregory Toth (Senate House Library), Vocal Constructivists, Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR).

The evening is devised and presented by Colin Homiski, Research Librarian at Senate House Library.

The Vocal Constructivists (below):


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Cover, book, judge

You can't judge a book by its cover but I'm covering a book with judges' untenanted robes.

The editors say they'd like a cover picture based on this sketch, but without the man from Ede & Ravenscroft (the temple of judicial costume). That's a pity but I take their point. In this drawing, Christopher Allan, the company's Court and Ceremonial Manager, is addressing an academic workshop organised by

I mull over a few other ideas, including this next one, but we stick with the robes.

I need to inspect ceremonial garb for the Court of Appeal (black and gold), High Court (red) and Circuit Bench, so I head for the Chancery Lane emporium. As I enter, a QC whose career is sprinkled with Supreme Court stardust is leaving; he beams into the sunshine, a happy man.

Chris kindly sets up the robes on dummies. They are in beautiful condition, just raring to go - unlike the peer's robe awaiting repair in the basement, with grubby ermine and ripped hem, which looks as if it saw action at the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Back home, I do a rough sketch the same size as the book in ink, felt tips and waterbrush.

Then, mainlining Radio 3, I do the larger unfinished-looking finished version in ink and watercolour.
This will be reduced in size when printed, to tighten it up.

As a sort of coda, because I would be happier if the robes were inhabited and moving around, I do a much faster but pointless degraded version in ink...

...followed by some ink splodges.

The title lettering will need a dark background so I do a rough drawing of figured damask, based on but not slavishly copied from the Court of Appeal robe.

And again, manipulated...

Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity, edited by Professor Graham Gee and Professor Erika Rackley, is published by Routledge in 2017.  

And if you aren't qualified for an Ede & Ravenscroft uniform, don't despair. My party outfit here is assembled from H&M, a jumble sale, Portobello, Oxfam, Claire's, Rigby & Peller and a gift from the law firm Simmons & Simmons' Black Museum of Passing Off.
Work sheet:

PS: the drawings that are doing best so far are the ink blots and the one with the man from Ede & Ravenscroft. Back to the drawing board. When is that deadline again?

Monday, 17 October 2016

A remoaner at the RCJ Brexit hearing, day two

I feel as if I'm watching a massive irrelevance while the nation shunts itself into a siding and waits for the rails to rust. 

I hope I'm wrong, but I think it's grubby political expediency, random acts of idiocy and Macmillan's dreaded  'events, dear boy, events' which will mould Brexit, rather than this court case.

For all the forensic top-gunnery going on here, we're at a seaside Punch and Judy show with freak waves threatening to engulf us.

What is there to see? If you go into an overspill courtroom to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV, it's like looking at a box of insects through the wrong end of a telescope. The placing of the microphones depends largely on guesswork and some of the sound is muffled. If you get into the public gallery in the rafters of Court 4, you are dazzled by the elaborate light fittings. I flip up the hood of my mac for a few seconds: it shields me from the wattage but makes me look like a nutter so I settle for the glare. Drawing is illegal.

Below, you can see the bench, a confetti of highlighters in front of the Master of the Rolls, and a row of court staff, but in this classic piece of Victorian court design you - the public - can't see anyone else, and that's deliberate. If the speakers mumble you can't hear them too well as the miking is not aimed at you. To compensate, a transcript is available as soon as the session is over.

Spotter's note: should this case reach the Supreme Court, you'll have the luxury of watching it live and recorded on

Both photos (by Fred Hatt) are of Anna Noctuelle tied by Mercandbear Fet (Berlin, 2016). I can't push the Japanese-rope-bondage-in-performance analogy too far as it's consensual, unlike Brexit.

On the way here I passed the National Gallery, King's College and the LSE, all royally shafted by Brexit. Now I feel insulated or isolated from real life. This courtroom is marooned. We're living Desert Island Discs. There's a bible, in one of those naff modern translations. And we have Shakespeare, kind of - 'It is perhaps unsurprising that it was Henry IV who wanted to kill all of the lawyers,' says counsel ambitiously, although 'Let's kill all the lawyers' is uttered by Dick the Butcher in Henry VI Part II. We're doomed to listen to eight music tracks chosen by referendum before we start to kill and eat each other. What's our one luxury? Still being in the EU, for now.

The Attorney-General stands up. The 60-odd people in the public gallery become watchful as cats. Even though we can't see him. A pregnant woman strokes her bump reassuringly. The Master of the Rolls removes his wig for a couple of seconds and scratches his head. Don't we all. He asks the AG a question. The AG answers. The Lord Chief Justice asks the AG the same question, rephrased.

Now James Eadie QC: 'The prerogative, it has often been said, is the residue of powers left in the hands of the Crown. We submit that words need to be added to the end of that description of the prerogative and the correct and true principle is that the prerogative is the residue of powers left in the hands of the Crown by Parliament.'

We had a civil war to sort out this kind of stuff. Seems like yesterday. Or tomorrow. Parties and lawyers on the claimant side have received threats of violence.

Mr Eadie describes the argument between him (for the Government) and Lord Pannick: 'There is an element of two ships passing in the night because we both assert a constitutional assumption upon which Parliament has legislated.' Is one of them a rescue ship? Will it see us?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brexit hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice

Brexit means The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19) by Géricault in the Louvre.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Brexiteers in joke-shop barrister fancy dress‎ are giving press interviews. 

Inside, I'm sent to an overspill courtroom to watch Santos and M v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on closed-circuit TV, because the public gallery is full.

The screen is high up and shows two adjacent fixed-camera images of Lilliput, each measuring about 14 inches diagonally. Movements are jerky, as in old newsreels. 

One fifth of the right hand picture is obliterated by a superimposed image of the royal coat of arms. DIEU ET MON DROIT. But whose law, and whose right? The EU's, parliament's, an unelected prime minister's? Will hereditary peers save us from all this? Who's minding the shop?‎

Brexit means bondage: Anna Noctuelle tied by Mercandbear Fet. At the end of the act, Anna tears down the union flag in despair. Berlin, 2016. Photo: Fred Hatt

Each morning, I wake up at the back of the sooty bone-strewn cave with an instinct that something bad has happened. Then ‎I really wake up and remember Brexit.

But back to the overspill courtroom, where four large black monoliths are stacked against the wall behind the empty bench. What is their function? They remind me of the monoliths in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 but they don't seem to be teaching us or transmitting anything. Presumably their alien creators don't think we've reached a worthwhile stage of evolution.

I head for Court 4, where there is now some space in the public gallery near the ceiling. The sunshine picks out carpets of dust on high oak shelves. 

Last time I saw Frances Gibb of The Times she said I was looking diaphanous: I was wearing a gauzy stole, £1 from Portobello. Today she is dressed in what looks from my distant seat to be a nice fitted shift dress with mesh sleeves in a becoming plum colour which matches the courtroom curtains.

You'll have worked out that if you want informed legal commentary, this blog isn't the place for it. I seek out the professionals (see above, plus Ian Dunt, David Allen Green, Jolyon Maugham QC, Joshua Rozenberg et al).

I leave the public gallery and descend a dimly lit narrow spiral stone staircase. My right hand follows the thick red safety rope to nowhere. 

Well hard Brexit:

PS I'm live-drawing on 21 Oct at this Bloomsbury Festival event.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

'Paperwork': insider-outsider art exhibition at the Supreme Court

Paperwork, a temporary exhibition at the Supreme Court, consists of about 30 pieces - shredded, scissored, glued, painted, twisted, mashed, recycled. Torn up sentences.

Hanging Paper Ball is a metaphor for a barrister's wig...

...and for an albino African pygmy hedgehog I drew recently:

  The paper necklace is marketable.

This detail from My Lady's Waiting shows a Renaissance technique called quilling, which uses coiled strips:

A similar three-dimensional use of paper strips...

...has a Van Gogh texture:

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The juxtaposition of these two makes me think of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,  Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel which inspired the film Blade Runner:

I also like the hidden 'ream' in the recycled book.
The exhibits in Paperwork, which runs until 30 September 2016, were created by people in prison, serving community sentences or in secure psychiatric care. Some works are for sale, with proceeds shared by the Koestler Trust (which curated the exhibition) and Victim Support. For opening times and information about supporters and the UK Supreme Court Arts Trust, please see here

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Notting Hill Carnival

I want the policemen to walk into view to complete this very Notting Hill scene. But, seeing me snapping away, they politely hang back.

'When I get my hands on that whistle I'm going to shove it so far up your arse it'll go out of sight.' Not me speaking, but a carnival-goer to her friend.

I draw in a dance studio where members of Paddington Arts and Elimu Mas Resurrection are getting made up. I'm biased but they seem to have the best costumes and the most beauty queens.

Face painter in the street

On the way home I encounter a boy of about ten standing inside his front gate. He is selling use of a lavatory in the high-end property behind him for £2 a time (and fancy cupcakes).

'How much did you make yesterday?' I ask.
'£270,' he says breezily. 'You should try it.'

Batala London, a swaying samba reggae band of about 200 drummers, sounds like the end of the world. Bring it on. It's preceded by a flotsam of selfie-takers.

Two exaggerated blondes toil at the coal face of Beach Blanket Babylon for the duration, smiling in high heels and selling shots of pink liquid from heavy bottles strapped to their tiny waists.

I hear the Spice Girls being played inside.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Wings to one side, looking out of the high window

Miss Carnival International Model (left)
A rich couple looking neither right nor left

And that's it for this year