Thomas Bock

Thomas Bock   Ikon gallery December 2017

 

Today in Birmingham’s ikon gallery saw the long in the curating first exhibition outside Australia dedicated to the work of Thomas Bock (c 1793 – 1855). As ikon director Jonathan Watkins and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery director, Janet Carding say in their forward to the beautifully and insightfully illustrated catalogue ; ‘It comprises a selection of drawings, paintings and photographs that demonstrate not only the artist’s technical skill, but also sensitivity to a wide range of subject matter including portraits of Tasmanian Aborigines, his fellow criminals as well as free settlers in Hobart Town, nudes, landscapes and every day scenes, occasionally giving touching inside into his domestic life.

Bock was one of the most important artists working in Australia during the colonial years. Born in Birmingham, trained there as an engraver and miniature painter, in 1823 he was found guilty of ’administering concoctions for certain herbs …… with the intent to cause miscarriage’ and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in Hobart the following year where quickly he was pressed into service is a convict artist, engraving banknotes, illustrations for a local almanac and commercial stationery. An early commission was a number of portraits of captured bushrangers, before and after execution by hanging, including the notorious cannibal Alexander Pearce.

Alexander Pearce, serial murderer, executed and recorded by drawing

In a short space of time, Bock’s life was turned upside down. Once a respectable artisan in his early 20s, with a good address in a booming industrial town, he now found himself at the edge of the known world in the company of compatriots who were as desperate as they were depraved. There are no surviving diaries that document his personal journey, but Bock’s artistic output on arrival, through conditional absolute pardon and until his death – marked by an obituary but described him as artist of a very high order – is a rich seam of observation that was at once subtle and astonishing.

Most significant in this respect is a box series of portraits of Tasmanian Aborigines, commissioned by George Augustus Robinson during 1831-35, now in the British Museum. It is a master set, from which a number of copies were made. The drawing throughout is very fine and the likenesses probably very true, and having them at the heart of this exhibition will effectively convey the tragedies suffered by Indigenous people through the British colonisation of Australia. The sitters – including Trukanini (c1812-76) have a demeanour that conveys both pride and despair. For British audiences on the whole this work will be a revelation; for Aboriginal visitors to the exhibition in Hobart – who know the sad narrative only too well – it will be a rare and poignant opportunity to see firsthand such early pictures of their ancestors.

The exhibition and history reflects a literally amazing story of a Birmingham born trained artist and convicted criminal who sketched his passage from Woolwich in July 1823 to Tasmania in January 1824. The sketches begin with a family, and a view of the city, both probably his own. They follow the English, Cape Verde and South Africa coastlines as he reaches Hobart and is immediately put to work for the Bank of Van Dieman’s Land engraving notes.

The exhibition and the walking talk by Jane Stewart of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and Tasmanian Artist, writer and historian Julie Gough took us through the works on the wall. Jane explained  the depth of history, skills and talents of Thomas Bock and concluded at a glazed box holding the portrait of a young Tasmanian woman ‘taken in’, from Flinders Island of incarceration, by a British serving family in Hobart to be ‘civilised’. The Franklins commissioned Bock to paint a portrait of Mithina (Mathinna) in the red dress. There is much history to this image which Jane and Julia shared with us, including the fact that the original painting was framed by an oval mount which removed Mathinna’s feet from view. On purpose we do not not know, but the portrait is now exhibited in a frame showing her whole body.

Director Watkins also introduced another glazed case by lifting the leather cover to reveal 3 daguerreotypes taken by Bock only three years after the process was invented in France. It is claimed that Thomas Bock was the first person to introduce the technique to Tasmania.  He passed on his photographic business to his step son Alfred who in turn introduced the Carte de Visite to Hobart. The exhibition does not include an image of Thomas Bock, and one is extremely hard to locate, perhaps. because of Bock’s very real criminal history in Britain. However the Australian Dictionary of Biography holds a photograph by Alfred, along with his Biography which I include here as I ‘missed’ seeing him alongside the images he created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally Julia walked us round the gallery to furnish us with the historical context to Bock’s artworks. She was aided by, appropriately enough, a miniature projector with her slide show being projected on the wall spaces between the frames. Director Watkins showed a steady and stable hand to keep the beam straight and true. Much like the exhibition as a whole that delivers revelations about a little known, until now, Birmingham, British artist and his role in reflecting the Indigenous peoples of Tasamania.

Slide Show

The exhibition is on until March next year and there are a range of talks this week culminating in a symposium on Friday 15th:

Menzies Centre for Australian Studies & Ikon

Thomas Bock Symposium Convicts, Race, and Art

This one-day symposium is a collaboration between King’s College London and Ikon.

Bock was one of the most important artists working in Australia during the colonial years. He trained as an engraver and miniature painter in Birmingham before, in 1823, being found guilty of “administering concoctions of certain herbs … with the intent to cause miscarriage”, for which his sentence was transportation for fourteen years. Bock arrived in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania, Australia) the following year, where he was quickly pressed into service as a convict artist, engraving bank notes, illustrations for a local almanac, cheques, commercial stationery and so on. An early commission was a number of portraits of captured bushrangers, before and after execution by hanging, including the notorious cannibal Alexander Pearce. Bock’s portraits of Aboriginal Tasmanians are some of the most important in Australian art, including that featured here of Mathinna, daughter of Towterer and his wife Wongerneep of the Lowreenne people.

Experts will contextualise Bock’s life and work, while engaging in debates about ‘art in a time of colony’, the representation of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, and the politics and experience of transportation from the Midlands to colonial Australia.

 

 

 

Programme

10:00-10:30 Registration, Anatomy Museum, Level 6, Kings Building

10:30-1045 Welcome by Dr Ian Henderson, Director MCAS

10:45-12:30 Industrial Birmingham to Colonial Van Diemens Land

 

Dr Malcolm Dick, University of Birmingham

Thomas Bocks Birmingham: Industry and Culture in the city of a thousand trades

Professor Judith A. Allen, Indiana University Bloomington

Thomas Bocks conviction: Men, and the rise and fall of the new capital crime of abortion, 1803-37

Dr David Meredith, University of Oxford

On the transportation system and Van Diemens Land

 

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30-15:00 Convicts, Art, and Knowledge

 

Professor Clare Anderson, University of Leicester

Convicts and Penal Colonies in 19th-Century Science and Collecting: A Global Perspective

Professor Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll, University of Birmingham

Thomas Bock and Edmund Clark: Savagery and Redemption in Ikon’s criminal portraiture, colonial and contemporary

Dr Ian Henderson, Menzies Centre King’s College London

Green Arcades Project: Art and Sociability in Nineteenth-Century Hobart Town

 

15:00-15:30 Afternoon Tea

15:30-17:00 Bock and the Tasmanians

 

Jane Stewart, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

On Bock and the history of art in Tasmania

Dr Gaye Sculthorpe, British Museum

Thomas Bock and the mystery of Trukanini’s necklace

Dr Julie Gough, Artist

The race of representation: What the works by Bock and his colonial contemporaries offer on the circumstances of Tasmanian Aboriginal people

17:30-19:30 Reception for Ikons Thomas Bock Exhibition

18:00 Jonathan Watkins, Director, Ikon Gallery on the exhibition

 

Image: Thomas Thomas Bock Mithina (Mathinna) (1842) Watercolour Presented by J H Clark 1951, AG290

Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

 

 

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Tracey Drawing Conference

Presentations from Day 1 at Loughborough University Fine Art Department in this slide show.

 

Following an introduction to Drawing / phenomenology: tracing lived experiences through drawing,  by Conference Organiser and host Deborah Hartley, a diverse and insightful series of  presentations covering intensely local to expansive global drawing projects ….

Deborah Harty: drawing is phenomenology?

Jane Cook: Drawing the Domestic: a practice-led phenomenological study through–drawing investigating notions of the experience of home. 

Martin Lewis: Perfunctory Acts of Drawing. 

Marion Arnold: The Sensing, Knowing Hand: a Phenomenological Drawing Tool.

Eleanor Morgan: Fixing the ephemeral: the materiality of sand-drawings.

Phil Sawdon: … feel my way … outline judgements … I made some pictures

…… there was a choice of 4 workshops for the afternoon session.

I selected the intriguingly titled : Gained in Translation: Drawing Art History presented by Sarah Jaffray from the Bridget Riley Foundation at The British Museum.  Surprisingly this was a participatory session where we were encouraged to draw from the collection of British Museum prints inc great masters and more recent drawing works.  Beginning with quick draw exercises to get us loosened up we worked through pictures at speed and then on to a longer 10 minute drawing session.  My selected drawing for this longer session was  Michel Thevoz in the library of the Art Brut Museum, Graphite by Ariane Laroux. This longer focus on ‘copying’ or ‘Re, Representing’ a drawing enabled me to begin to understand the flow of the drawing through the artist’s eyes, by copying her drawing with intense attention to detail to honestly copy and represent  her drawing.

The drawing captured the subject, but left much of the subject out. Much of the paper remained white and untouched. Following the drawing from head to hand seemed to reveal decisions made by Ariane Laroux to draw her subject, which may have gone unnoticed without the attention to detail required to copy her drawing. This seemed to confirm the thesis that faithful copying from original art is valuable to the copier in terms of dexterity, skills and insight into the artistic process.

I was not attempting to make better the original, but to replicate it honestly to the best of one’s ability to make a genuine copy. I felt the process of drawing Ariane’s Drawing brought me closer to her process to draw her subject. It was no longer an exercise, but an engaged desire to be true to her drawing, and to be with her, in her mark making and her decisions to draw parts of her subject that illuminated her whole subject. I did not know or see her subject before her, as I did not know the Ruben’s or Leonardo’s subjects, but with licence and dedicated time to draw from her picture I got to know the subject and even closer to the artist’s representation of the subject. Whilst being drawn into the process and giving as much as I could into the timeframe I felt I wanted to talk to Ariane about her drawing choices, in this portrait, because I thought I ‘knew more’ than when I began.

Sarah Jaffray’s workshop focussed on translation, which is wholly pertinent, however I took from it ‘the right to copy’ as an educational, skills and insightful process of value. She, through the Bridget Riley Foundation,  encourages drawings of the drawings, for the benefit of of the contemporary drawer.

This process encouraged  me to question where Drawing and Phenomenology meet?

The workshop abstract : 

Gained in Translation: Drawing Art History

Drawing from drawing is as old as the artist’s workshop: students drawing from their master’s work, tacked to the wall of a studio, began their journey to mastery through faithful copying. Today however, in the wake of post-modernism’s reaction against authority, copying from a ‘master’ feels outdated and has thus been erased from contemporary arts education.

For the past three years the Bridget Riley Art Foundation at the British Museum has worked with over 1,000 university art students to revive and interrogate the value of drawing from drawing as a contemporary research method. In the process of over 150 workshops we found that students who initially dismissed the practice as ‘servile copying’ began to legitimise the process with the language of translation.

Building on this qualitative research, our workshop will examine the practice of drawing from drawing through the lens of translation theory. We will discuss translation, in the manner of Walter Benjamin, as a mode of cognition that allows the translator to critically interrogate their own artistic language. Working through a series of drawing exercises from (reproductions of) drawings in the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings collection we will actively explore the question: what can translating teach the translator

Those interested in drawing from the collection can make an appointment at : www.britishmuseum.org.

The  Artworks used from the British Museum collection:

1. Paul Cézanne, Study of a plaster Cupid, c.1890; graphite. 1935,0413.2

2. Bridget Riley, Untitled 2 (Circles with verticals), 1960; Pencil, blue ink and gouache paper. 2013,7097.2

3. Vincent van Gogh, La Crau from Montmajour, France, May 1888; Pen and brown ink, over black chalk and graphite. 1968,0210.20

4. Ariane Laroux, Michel Thevoz in the library of the Art Brut Museum; graphite. 2001,0929.12

5. Théodore Géricault, Study of Soldiers fighting Civilians, 1823; Graphite over red chalk. 1920,0216.3

6. Sol Lewitt, Untitled, 1971. Pen and yellow ink. 1981,1003.27

7. Antoine Watteau, Studies of a woman standing, seen from behind, a half-length woman with head in profile to left and women’s hands, 1684-1721; Red and black chalks, 1857,0228.213

8. Peter Paul Rubens, Mary Magdalene, c. 1620; Black chalk, heightened with white. 1912,1214.5; H16

9. Frank Auerbach, First drawing for ‘Ruth’, 1994; graphite. 2013,7059.48

10. Leonardo, The Virgin and Child, 1478-80; Pen and brown ink, over leadpoint, the lower sketch in leadpoint only. 1860,0616.100, P&P 100

11. Barbara Hepworth, Sculptural forms, c. 1938; ink on paper. 2008,7082.1

12. Honoré Daumier, Clown playing a drum, c.1865/7; Pen and black and grey ink, grey wash, watercolour, touches of gouache, and conté crayon, over black chalk underdrawing. 1968,0210.30