‘Russian Doll’ – Remembering Female Victims of War

'The Russian Doll', red, black, blue and green Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘The Russian Doll’, red, black, blue and green Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Adopting the iconic image of the Russian doll, this drawing was made as a memorial to women and young girls  who were/are the victims of violence during war.  A Russian Doll painted with the tranquil scene of Ivan Shishkin’s ‘Morning in a Pine Forest’, 1889, one of Russia’s most popular paintings, is layered with the image of Russian soldiers fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad during WWII.  Now a well documented fact, graphically conveyed in such writings as Anthony Beevor’s ‘Berlin: The Downfall 1945’ 2002, this piece represents the genocidal rape perpetrated by the Red Army as it surged towards Berlin.  The novelist Vasily Grossman, a front line war correspondent with the Red Army, dismayed at the mass rape committed by so many Russian soldiers on not only German women but liberated Polish and Russian women wrote,

“Horror in the eyes of women and girls” (‘A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945’).

The consequences of such violations often resulted/result in suicide, unwanted pregnancies and lifelong psychological and physical scars. By layering a self-portrait as part of the Russian Doll’s face, thus bridging awareness between statics and reality, this representation suggests that during war violence is indiscriminate and targets females of all ages and backgrounds.  Often a strategic weapon of war that has been used in conflicts since records began, it is still common today, recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo and with many incidents of rape being reported in the current conflict in Iraq.   At the very edge of the drawing appear the legs of a young girl, a reminder of the very young victims of war rape.

For further images from this series please visit my website.

NEW WORK COMING SOON – Meet ‘Old Foe’ and ‘Odyssey’

'Old Foe' The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’ The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

New work is on its way!  Made late last year prototypes ‘Old Foe’ and ‘Odyssey’, two of seven figurines of original Biro drawings on china form part of a wider project about life and death in the animal world, both naturally and at the hands of man.

'Odyssey', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

Inspired by Goya’s Los Caprichos, ‘The Dreamers’ represent the innocent physicality of sleep whilst the torrid kaleidoscope of dreams cascades through the brain.   ‘The Dreamers’ also represents the quiet moments of peace and daydreams before the inevitability of life’s realities steals ‘innocence’.  Dreams play out like films in our minds, abstract fragments of the brain’s data input of information and our fears and hopes.  Much of my work is based on the subject matter of loss through war and disaster or environmental destruction, represented in layered Biro drawings using stills from films often creating an abstracted phantasmagoria of images and thoughts.  Films transport and capture our minds just like dreams do; they face our fears, portray our hopes and can be therapeutic tools in our waking hours as dreams are deemed brain therapy in our sleep.

I made a random collection of figurines from local charity shops, so that my philosophy of simply using what is close at hand, such as a Biro for drawings was upheld with the choice of figurines available on each day.  Damaged and repaired figurines were still selected to retain the memory of the figurine’s previous life and owner.  Each figurine was then painted white, purifying them from the original manufacturers painted design and stripping each figurine back to the foundations of its physical representation thus creating a blank canvas.  This brings a sense of life to each figurine without the distraction of painted design before the original black Biro drawings are drawn onto the painted surface as well as white representing the purity of ‘a being’ at sleep.  An incredibly hard surface to draw on, these pieces were challenging and remain precious for the intimacy shared with each piece by holding them in my hands as I drew on them.

'Old Foe', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’ (Unmarked Japanese Ceramic mouse figurine) – Inspired by of layers of still images from the Chinese animation ‘Black Cat Detective’, Shanghai Animation Film Studio, 1984 – 2006 and images of the my late mouse Tinkerbell! The origins of this piece represent the age-old feud between cats and mice ultimately leading to the natural but often cruel, death play of the cat with the mouse. ‘Black Cat Detective’ is noted for being particularly violent above other cat and mouse animations such as ‘Tom and Jerry’.  The animated cat’s face is replaced by a black panther’s face, representing the ‘Panthera’ species’ of cats, many of which are under threat of extinction from traditional Chinese medicine.  The flying mice suggest traditional animation representations of death as winged mice fly to heaven.

'Odyssey', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’ (Lomonosov Foal) – A lying foal ‘Odyssey’ dreams of his odyssey through life – black Biro drawing made of layers of images inspired from ‘The Red and the White’, Miklós Jancsó, 1967, ‘White Mane’, Albert Lamorisse, 1953 and ‘Les sang des bêtes’, Georges Franju, 1949.  Hope for a bright future is portrayed in the innocent form of the young foal’s figurine as Odyssey faces his journey through life, tracing his playful youth as a colt ridden bareback by a young boy to cavalry horse of the revolutionary Red Army, to its journeys end at an abattoir.  This piece depicts the fate of many war-horses, often cruelly treated and asks whether this is a fitting demise for an animal who has given its life to war service for humans, or if it’s destiny into the meat trade alongside other livestock is justified?

Further images will be released as this project continues.

‘Bang!’ – Odyssey of the Siberian Tiger

"Bang!", Siberian Tiger, 'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

“Bang!”, Siberian Tiger, ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Bang!’ is the second drawing in my diptych, ‘Siberian Tiger’, which is part of my luxury fine English china plate and print series. Inspired by the elusive Amur tiger, stealing through the forests of Ussuriland in Scottish film maker Gordon Buchanan’s beautifully shot film ‘Amba, the Russian Tiger’, 2008, a tiger skull placed beside a walking Siberian tiger is layered with a projected image of a group of revolutionary Red Army soldiers posing with a tiger they have shot.  The target of the sniper rifle in the foliage of ‘Shh, it’s a Tiger! is revealed as the walking tiger in ‘Bang!’ through the symbolic bullet hole in the skull.

'Shh, it's a Tiger!' and 'Bang!', Siberian tiger luxury fine china plate diptych by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Shh, it’s a Tiger!’ and ‘Bang!’, Siberian tiger luxury fine china plate diptych by Jane Lee McCracken

The simplicity of this drawing which juxtaposes the complexity of ‘Shh, it’s a Tiger!’ carries an epic message, unless the illegal hunting of tigers by poachers is halted, Siberian Tigers will no longer roam the forests of Ussuriland.  Around 400 Amur Tigers remain in the wild.  Wildlife crime remains one of the greatest threats to their survival. For further information about the Amur Tiger please click on this link to WWF’s website

'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', Luxury Fine English China Plate Series by Jane Lee McCracken

‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, Luxury Fine English China Plate Series by Jane Lee McCracken

For plate enquiries please contact: jane@janeleemccracken.co.uk For plate sales please visit THE NEW ENGLISH

"Bang!", Siberian Tiger, 'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

“Bang!”, Siberian Tiger, Archival Pigment Print

For luxury Archival Pigment prints made to order by the UK’s best master printmaker Jack Lowe Studio please visit my shop Website_header_panel_94ef2d8a-1f22-4c1f-b100-2d63e2e8fe93_1024x1024

‘Shh, it’s a Tiger!’ – Amba, Guardian of the Forest

"Shh, it's a Tiger!", Siberian Tiger, 'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', 2013, black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

“Shh, it’s a Tiger!”, Siberian Tiger, ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, 2013, black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

As part of my china and print series ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’ the first Biro drawing in the Siberian Tiger diptych was inspired by two things – a drawing by an old master and an iconic image of India.

‘Landscape with a Woodland Pool’, Albrecht Dürer, 1496

The synonymous image of a Royal Bengal tiger bathing in a pool in Ranthambore National Park, India with its majestic ruined palaces, was the basis for my Russian fantasy of the Siberian tiger. Albrecht Dürer’s beautiful and beguiling drawing Landscape with a Woodland Pool 1496, a photograph of a forest pool in Ussuriland and Ivan Shishkin’s painting, ‘The Forest of Countess Mordvinova’, 1891, form the inspiration for the background drawing layers, creating the fantastical setting for a bathing Siberian Tiger.

'Countess Mordvinov's Forest (Лес графини Мордвиновой)', Ivan Shishkin, 1891, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

‘Countess Mordvinov’s Forest (Лес графини Мордвиновой)’, Ivan Shishkin, 1891, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

At the edge of the lake sits a Dacha birdcage from my own collection.  Reclining inside is a Siberian tiger, further suggesting the image of Royal Bengal tigers shading inside Indian palaces but also indicating the thousands of tigers kept in captivity in comparison with so few remaining wild tigers.  A giant Siberian tiger sweeps through the forest background, emulating the Udege and Nanai name for the tiger “Amba”, ‘Guardian of the Forest’.  Breaking through the forest is a cavalry of Red Army soldiers symbolising the devastation wreaked on the Siberian Tiger population, which was almost extinguished by both Red and White Armies around Vladivostok during the Russian Revolution.

'Shh, it's a Tiger!', luxury fine English china plate by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Shh, it’s a Tiger!’, luxury fine English china plate by Jane Lee McCracken

On the right walks a tiger beside an Udege woman from a still photograph I took of ‘Amba the Russian Tiger‘, 2008, Gordon Buchanan, proclaiming the fragility of not only the tiger population but the indigenous people of Ussuriland.  The tiger in the pool looks beyond a sniper rifle hidden in the foliage, outside the picture towards ‘Bang!’ the second drawing in the Siberian Tiger diptych.  A skull with a bullet hole depicted in ‘Bang!’ indicates what the tiger in the pool is watching, a tiger hunt!

'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', Luxury Fine English China Plate Series by Jane Lee McCracken

‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, Luxury Fine English China Plate Series by Jane Lee McCracken


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For plate enquiries please contact:

jane@janeleemccracken.co.uk

For plate sales please visit THE NEW ENGLISH

'Shh, it's a Tiger!', Archival Pigment Print

‘Shh, it’s a Tiger!’, Archival Pigment Print

For luxury Archival Pigment prints made to order by the UK’s best master printmaker Jack Lowe Studio please visit my shop

 

Where’s Daddy Bear?

"Mummy Bear and Baby Bear", Brown Bears, 'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

“Mummy Bear and Baby Bear”, Brown Bears, ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

As part of the Brown Bears diptych for my luxury china plate series “In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia”, ‘Mummy Bear and Baby Bear’ highlights the practice of den hunting in Russia where hibernating adult bears are woken by dogs and shot as they emerge from their den, resulting in the orphaning of cubs if the female bear has produced a litter. Using Anselm Kiefer’s painting, ‘Parsifal III’, 1973 as the underlying layer of the drawing, this piece depicts not only the physical painted elements of Kiefer’s dark den like attic but also Kiefer’s symbolism, his bold challenges on recent history and the fact that Kiefer’s attic represents the origin of time. This signifies for me age-old relationships between man and animals, both good and evil.

'Mummy Bear and Baby Bear', Brown Bears, luxury fine English china plate by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Mummy Bear and Baby Bear’, Brown Bears, luxury fine English china plate by Jane Lee McCracken

Kiefer’s portrayal of the ‘Parsifal Saga’ and Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ Opera include the symbolic ‘holy spear’ which in this drawing penetrates the cub’s neck creating Jung’s ‘Amfortas Wound’, the wound that never heals. The representation of the ‘Amfortas Wound’ not only suggests that man historically as a species continues to repeat controversial behaviour despite knowledge of its consequences, but also implies the pain of ‘loss’ that never completely heals. In the centre of the piece are a mother bear and her cub, a drawing montage of Viktor Koretsky’s 1942 WWII propaganda poster “Red Army Soldiers, Save Us!”. The drawing parallels not only the interpretation of the fairy tale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ which moralises key needs for both humans and bears such as food, safety and shelter but also asks “where’s Daddy bear?”, is he also a victim of den hunting? The gun thrust into the faces of Mummy bear and Baby Bear is a WWII Russian PPSH41 Sub Machine gun replacing the German bayonet in Koretsky’s original poster suggesting ‘Friendly Fire’ on Brown Bears as it is Russian business deals that continue the practice of den hunting and result in the hunting of Russia’s national symbol.

Sadly the original black Biro drawing was damaged but thankfully not before the image in its original form reached THE NEW ENGLISH to be made into plates.  This plate and the the beautiful luxury prints made by Jack Lowe Studio are therefore very special to me on a personal level.

 

"Mummy Bear and Baby Bear", Brown Bears, 'In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia', 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

“Mummy Bear and Baby Bear”, Brown Bears, ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’, 2013 black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

For plate enquiries please contact:

jane@janeleemccracken.co.uk

For plate sales please visit THE NEW ENGLISH

For luxury Archival Pigment prints made to order by master printmaker Jack Lowe Studio please visit my shop

“Save Us!” – The Wolves Propaganda Poster

'"Save Us!', Propaganda poster for the Wolf's House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

‘”Save Us!”, Propaganda Poster’ for the Wolf’s House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

Originally conceived as the design for a miniature poster to adorn the interior walls of ‘The Wolf’s House’,  ‘”Save Us!” Propaganda Poster’ is a photo montage using prints of my original black Biro drawings of Lily, as a puppy and as a mature dog.  Her lupine features as well as her trusting expression seemed to lend perfectly to the theme of the poster.

The foundation for this piece is the famous Soviet World War II propaganda poster by Viktor Koretsky, “Red Army Soldiers, Save Us!”, 1942.  Although the Russian cyrillic translation for “Red Army Soldiers” has been removed from the design, I have left a trace of where it was originally placed, indicating the war I envisaged the inhabitants of The Wolf’s House to be planning or already waging against humans.  Retaining the Russian translation for “Save Us!” from Koretsky’s original poster in my design, incites a message that is woven throughout the symbolism of The Wolf’s House, promoting conservation of threatened species.

"Red Army Soldiers, Save Us!", original 1942 Soviet WWII propaganda poster by

“Red Army Soldiers, Save Us!”, original 1942 Soviet WWII propaganda poster by

The Kafka-esque images I imagined of wolves holding secret meetings in ‘The Wolf’s House’, planning their epic battle against humans were perhaps triggered not only by my drawing of 2010,  “TV Screen III – ‘East Meets West, Forests’ Memories'” but also by my husband’s description of  the music video for ‘There, There’, 2003, whilst we were listening to Radiohead’s ‘Hail to the Thief’ during a car journey to Scotland.  His description was powerful as I didn’t get round to watching the video until last year, a year after the creation of The Wolf’s House.

'"Save Us!', Propaganda poster for the Wolf's House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

‘”Save Us!’, Propaganda Poster’, Archival Pigment Print

Luxury Archival Pigment Prints of ‘Save Us!’ made by the excellent Jack Lowe studio are available to order from my website

The Wolf’s House

"The Wolf's House", 2012, black Biro drawings and mixed media by Jane Lee McCracken

“The Wolf’s House”, 2012, black Biro drawings and mixed media by Jane Lee McCracken

Outside a white-out blizzard howls, while war is waged through it.  Mrs Wolf throws open the door of ‘The Wolf’s House’ and looks out at the soldiers fighting around her cottage.

‘The Wolf’s House’ is symbolically one of the simplest pieces I have created for it simply asks “who is more civilised, man or animals?”.  A take on the iconic cuckoo clock, it was inspired by a cuckoo clock my father brought back to Scotland for me after a trip to Switzerland, when I was a child.

Black Biro drawing of Lily and 'Mrs Wolf'.  'Mrs Wolf' is made from a cast taken of wolf's head from my wedding cake-topper and the body of a vintage Polish Capeila doll as is 'Mr Wolf' who sits by the window.

Black Biro drawing of Lily and ‘Mrs Wolf’. ‘

The piece explores the juxtaposition of the roles of man and animals suggesting the idea of the ‘innocent’ instinctive nature of animals as opposed to the cerebrally determined brutal nature of man.  ‘The Wolf’s House’ is a beacon of light representing civilised society whilst chaos reigns outside; but it is occupied by wolves not humans.

"The Wolf's House", 2013, 'The Woodcutter's Cottage' exhibition, The Mercer Gallery, Harrogate

“The Wolf’s House”, 2013, ‘The Woodcutter’s Cottage’ exhibition, The Mercer Gallery, Harrogate.

Soldiers fight in the snow around the Wolf’s House whilst Mr and Mrs Wolf witness war, as animals of the forest play peacefully inside the house.  However there is an ever present threat from humans.

'The Wolf's House' roof detail, black Biro drawing of Lily on painted MDF

‘The Wolf’s House’ roof detail, black Biro drawing of Lily on painted MDF

Further inspiration for the piece came from a photograph of Russian soldiers fighting through a village towards Germany after the end of the battle of Stalingrad when the tide of war has changed.  I imagined a cottage somewhere in Eastern Europe encircled by soldiers fighting a brutal war.

Official USSR photograph of Red Army in combat WWII, Artist's own collection.

Official USSR photograph of Red Army in combat WWII, Artist’s own collection.

‘The Wolf’s House is a mixed media piece which includes original black Biro drawings of Lily drawn on painted, sanded MDF.  Model railway snow and glitter were used to create the winter snow scene on the roof and base.  Printed transfers on fabric formed the wallpaper of the interior walls, complete with propaganda posters specifically designed for the piece.  I sourced replica Russian F1 hand grenades which were then painted with white enamel as were the model soldiers, German Assault Infantry in winter gear and Russian Army Assault Infantry.  An authentic cuckoo clock chain bought from a clock shop holds the hand grenade weights of the clock.  ‘Mr and Mrs Wolf’ were made from casts taken of the wolves heads from my wedding cake-topper and the bodies of vintage Polish Capelia dolls bought on Ebay.

'The Wolf's House' interior

‘The Wolf’s House’ interior

Mr Wolf sits by the window surrounded by propaganda posters and watches bears, a wolf, a fox and a tiger cub playing together.

'The Wolf's House' interior shot through window.

‘The Wolf’s House’ interior shot through side window.

'The Wolf's House' interior shot through front window.

‘The Wolf’s House’ interior shot through front window.

Their play indicates that each species has it’s own social structure and behaviour which is rarely disregarded but whilst humans have a highly developed sense of morality, the moral codes by which we live are often breached.

'"Save Us!', Propaganda poster for the Wolf's House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

‘”Save Us!’, 2012, Propaganda poster for the Wolf’s House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

Ultimately the futures of many species’ are held in our hands and this is symbolised by ‘The Wolf’s House’ and the ever present battle around the house and its occupants.

Russian model soldiers fighting in the snow around 'The Wolf's House'

Russian model soldiers fighting in the snow around ‘The Wolf’s House’

Luxury Archival Pigment Prints of ‘Save Us!’ made by the excellent Jack Lowe studio are available to order from my website

'"Save Us!', Propaganda poster for the Wolf's House, photo montage by Jane Lee McCracken

‘”Save Us!’, Propaganda poster for the Wolf’s House, Archival Pigment Print

The Transylvanian Miller, her Two Sons and ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’

'Red Horse and the Wolf Cub - After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone', 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Red Horse and the Wolf Cub – After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone’, 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Not Long Ago, there lived a Miller and her two sons in a watermill, in a hamlet near the Transylvanian village of Miklósvár.  The mill was the prettiest building in the hamlet with the most beautiful cottage garden and chickens clucking through the flower beds.  Although she was very old and very petite the Miller ran the mill as she had for many years with the help of her sons.  Her sons had the bluest eyes in the land and were very tall.  All she needed was contained in one small, dark room, her bed, her kitchen range, a table, a chair and her loom for weaving tapestries and rugs.

The Miller's room at the watermill, Transylvania, 2008

The Miller’s room at the watermill, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

Sometimes she welcomed travellers to visit her mill to make extra leu.  One day a Scottish visitor and a Geordie visitor came to the mill.  She had baked them fresh pastries with jam which were delicious.  Her sons showed the visitors how the mill and its water wheel worked, then the Miller allowed the Scottish visitor to try weaving a rug on the loom.  Whilst weaving the visitor noticed a vibrant tapestry, hanging on the wall above the bed.  The tapestry depicted a fairy tale and underneath it the Miller sweetly slept in her bed each night.  When the tour was over the Miller stood in her garden in the sunshine waving goodbye to the visitors and her sons blinked their bright blue eyes”.

Wolf-tracking, Transylviania, 2008

Wolf-tracking, Transylviania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

So many aspects of our trip to Romania in 2008 have stayed with us, the breathtaking landscapes, the beautiful villages, wolf-tracking, bear-tracking and the friends we made and two wonderful nights spent with them in The Shed – a glorious watering hole in a Transylvanian village.

The Geordie and commonly known by himself, "George Bush",  The Shed, Transylvania, 2008

The Geordie and commonly known by himself, “George Bush”, The Shed, Transylvania, 2008

And the Miller and her mill.  I never forgot her standing in her garden waving to us.

The Miller's garden, Transylvania, 2008

The Miller’s garden, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

During our Romanian adventure, partly in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor, (see 175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor) we learned a lot about Communist oppression of the Romanian people, Communist State Terror and the purges resulting in many thousands of  lives lost at the hands of the Securitate – the Romanian Secret Police.  A tragically broken country and people, Romania only emerged from the shadow of Communism and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989.

Cottage in mountain village, Transylvania, 2008

Cottage in mountain village, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

Remembering the Miller and her precious fairy tale tapestry, I thought of the communist purges and the Romanian peoples forcibly torn from their homes by the Securitate and the possessions left behind in the many empty properties we saw across Romania, grave memorials of the state’s barbarity.

'Join the Red Army', 1920 Ukrainian recruitment poster, artist unknown

‘Join the Red Army’, 1920 Ukrainian recruitment poster, artist unknown

To commemorate such loss during the purges I decided to make ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’.  It represents an interpretation of mass produced prints made in the 20th century of a fictional fairy tale about a ‘wolf cub’ and a ‘red horse’ and is reminiscent of Soviet Propaganda posters.  The drawing signifies how subjective art is and once selected by an individual, and displayed in their home it becomes a statement of ‘this is my taste’.  When the art work is left behind on the walls of abandoned homes, the home-owners ‘taste’ is exhibited to a silent audience or rediscovered by soldiers, refugees, other villagers or by nature.  The drawing also pays homage to Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations, particularly ‘The Red Rider’ in the Russian tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful”.

'Red Rider', "Vasalisa the Beautiful", Ivan Bilibin, 1899

‘Red Rider’, “Vasalisa the Beautiful”, Ivan Bilibin, 1899

I wondered had the Miller loved fairy tales as a young girl just as I loved my first fairy tale book illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.  Incorporating a drawing in red Biro of a gypsy horse after Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, one of my favourite childhood illustrations, I placed Lily as a puppy playing the wolf cub, riding on the horse’s back.  On the saddle is a projection of a Russian animation of a wolf which the wolf cub is watching.

'Lily' aged 15 weeks during the photo shoot for 'The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub'

‘Lily’ aged 15 weeks during the photo shoot for ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’

The drawing also memorialises our wonderful trip to beautiful Romania.

'Red Horse and the Wolf Cub - After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone', 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Red Horse and the Wolf Cub – After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone’, 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Luxurious Archival Pigment limited edition prints of ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’, made by the excellent Jack Lowe Studio are available from my website

‘You Can Lead a Horse to Water…’ – Béla Tarr’s ‘TURIN HORSE’ in Kraków

'Sindy and the Troika', black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

‘Sindy and the Troika’, black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken

Incessant winda dirge of clawing violins on repeat… ’Doom’ on his hands and knees, crawling ever closer with each sunset, along his impending trail of inevitable cataclysm, until finally he reaches the desolate cottage on the Hungarian plains.

Bela Tarr’s finale to his epic film-making career ‘Turin Horse’ is a triumph of Apocalyptic cinema.  In the beginning: a black screen and Tarr’s voice narrating a vigil of white text informs us that on 3rd January 1889 in Turin, Friedrich Nietzsche reached out to protect a horse being beaten by its owner, experienced a terminal breakdown and lived a further ‘silent and demented’ 10 years until his death… “We do not know what happened to the horse.”

Opening scene, 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

Opening scene, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: an elderly man driving his horse and cart, battle through an abrasive gale along a country road, escorted by Mihály Víg’s vulturous score, reminiscent of Philip Glass’s composition for ‘Candyman’, until they finally reach an isolated cottage.  A woman steps from the shadows of a barn to help the old man unbridle the horse and lead it to stable and rest.  The bait is eaten as we are reeled in by our temptation to find out what happens next…not much and yet so much.  No names, no histoire and a minimalist script, Béla Tarr leaves us virtually at the mercy of the mesmerising, monochrome cinematography of Fred Kelemen.

'Daughter' trudging to the well in 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

‘Daughter’ trudging to the well, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

From the unbuttoning and buttoning of tattered clothes, folding of linen and the skinning by hand of hot boiled potatoes to reach the piping flesh; the daughter’s gruelling daily walk to the well in the prophetic wind to fetch water, we watch almost as if in real time 6 days of peasant hardship, grind and repetitive misery, that are the lives of an old man and his daughter in their dark, aged cottage whilst Abaddon rages outside.  Tarr’s appreciation of such adversity brings us perhaps as close as we can come to watching how our 19th century peasant forebears lived, and is almost the triumph of the film.  In parallel, Tarr’s vision gives us what Van Gogh gave us with ‘The Potato Eaters’ a wish to spare us nothing,

'The Potato Eaters', Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

‘The Potato Eaters’, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

“You see, I really have wanted to make it so that people get the idea that these folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor and — that they have thus honestly earned their food. I wanted it to give the idea of a wholly different way of life from ours — civilized people. So I certainly don’t want everyone just to admire it or approve of it without knowing why.”, Vincent Van Gogh“Letter 497”, The Letters, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Almost the triumph of the film, but not quite.

Whilst the camera focuses on a black blizzard of bird-like leaves wheeling through the foreground, the father and daughter leading their horse, their well now empty of water, attempt to escape the world counting down to oblivion.  As their tragic out of focus figures wrestle along the distant horizon of a ridge with a single tree, I can feel the gentle breath from Lily’s canine nose on my hand as she lies beside me on the sofa. Like the quiet grace of the ‘horse’, Lily’s reassuring, measured breaths during that bleak scene reinforce the innocence humanity literally holds in its hands, a ‘key point’ of Tarr’s film.

'Horse', 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

‘Horse’, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

And Darkness was on the Face of the Deep: The triumph of the film is the horse. Her dignity, the majesty with which her whole being seems to say ‘humanity you led us all to this, and now there is not even water to drink’.  The horse is our prophet, her intelligence far surpasses ours as she warns us life as we know it is over, that we have lost light and we are now plunging back into the darkness before creation, by man’s hand and Nature’s.

“The key point is that the humanity, all of us, including me, are responsible for destruction of the world. But there is also a force above human at work – the gale blowing throughout the film – that is also destroying the world. So both humanity and a higher force are destroying the world.” Bela Tarr, 2011

Bar in Kraków, 2007

Bar in Kraków, 2007

Watching ‘Turin Horse’ reminded me of a drawing I did in 2008 after a trip to  Kraków, ‘Sindy and the Troika’, which visited a theme I have often explored; fear and transpiration from the approach of a warring army.  We were staying in Kazimierz, which was once the heart of Jewish Kraków until the Nazis mercilessly ‘cleared’ the ghetto in WWII, depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Schindler’s List’, sending most of its Jewish inhabitants to their demise in nearby death camps like Auschwitz.

Kraków bar with Singer sewing machine as table, 2007

Me in another Kazimierz bar furnished with Singer sewing machine tables, Kraków, 2007

Kazimierz is now a vibrant art and cafe culture district and it was whilst in one of the many beautiful bars, which include bars like ‘Singer’ furnished with Singer sewing machine tables, that I found inspiration for the drawing.  I often contemplate the hellish fear that must overtake people when they are awaiting the onslaught of an enemy army. Documentaries are an audio visual record of this, but sitting in a room, that was originally a ghetto room where probably too many inhabited too few square feet, was sobering even with several Żubrówka‘s sunk accompanied by Polish cigarettes.

Kraków bar, 2007

Kraków bar, 2007

The room seemed to have been left just as if its inhabitants had walked out the door to find food, although perhaps they weren’t searching for food, perhaps they had fled from what must almost feel like the invasion of an alien army of super-humans from another planet as their wrath seems beyond that of civilised members of our own species.

Tapestry in Kraków bar, 2007

Vintage Russian Tapestry in Kraków bar, 2007

The bar owners had decorated the bar with a kitsch vintage tapestry of wolves hunting a man driving a troika.  I wondered where the tapestry had come from, I imagined it as the type of possession left by fleeing civilians not just across Poland but Europe – a cottage perhaps where the inhabitants left their favourite tapestry and their children’s toys for the hellfire of the oncoming German army or from fear of retaliation from the Allied Armies.

Official USSR photograph of Red Army in combat WWII, Artist's own collection.

The end of the Battle of Stalingrad turns the tide of war and the Red Army begin their offensive and fight their way to Berlin, often taking revenge for the inconceivable brutality perpetrated by the Wehrmacht on Russian civilians.  Official USSR photograph of Russian soldiers in combat, WWII, 1944, Artist’s own collection.

In the drawing the dishevelled, handless Sindy doll represents the brutality often waged upon civilian populations during war as well as the memories of children at play before fate’s hand led them to their destiny.  The tapestry symbolises life preceding war, of a beautiful forest and traditions and landscapes lost forever to war.  And like the father and daughter in ‘Turin Horse’, many families met their uncertain fates together.

'Sindy and the Troika', black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

‘Sindy and the Troika’, black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

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