‘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.

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

From Moscow with Love

'The Russian Doll', red, blue, green and black Biro drawing, 2008 by Jane Lee McCracken

‘The Russian Doll’, red, blue, green and black Biro drawing, 2008 by Jane Lee McCracken

The Russian Doll… Back in my home town of Edinburgh in 2005, with money in my pocket and a premeditated mission to visit ‘The Russian Shop’, my target was a Russian doll and successful return to Northumberland the same day with my own matryoshka.

The little shop on St Mary’s Street just off the High Street was overflowing with an impressive array of magnificent Russian dolls, lacquer boxes and wooden toys.  I wanted a special doll, something unique.   All the dolls were wearing coats of glistening varnish, except one which had a matt finish – she had the prettiest face, and on her body was a representation of Ivan Shishkin’s painting ‘Morning in a Pine Forest’, 1889. All her children had Russian landscape paintings on their bodies too and the same pretty face as their mother.  This was my doll!

Russian doll and her four children on 'The Wolf's House', mixed media, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

Russian doll and her four children on “The Wolf’s House”, mixed media, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

I took her to the counter to pay and the shop owner pointed to a woman I had noticed earlier who was sitting at a small desk painting a lacquer box. “This is the artist who made your doll, she has just flown in from Moscow this morning to give a demonstration of her work”.  Such excitement, such a lovely, gentle woman, we spoke to one another about her art and like a child holding out an autograph book to a living legend, I held out my dolI and asked if she would sign a dedication. “To Jane, with Love, 2005” it says.

'All I have left', 2001

“All I have Left”, 2001

Found objects and my own possessions feature a lot in my work.  I love the simplicity of using what is close at hand, a Biro, my dog Lily, objects I find on Ebay.  Working on  a series of drawings from 2008 called ‘Tales from the East’, I wanted to employ the iconic image of the Russian doll and create my own doll.  I used my Russian/Scottish doll as inspiration and a photograph from 2001 of myself, that was made for a series of digital montages called ‘All I have Left’ .

"Red Riding", All I have left' 2002, digital montage

‘”Red Riding”, All I have Left Series’ 2002, by Jane Lee McCracken, digital montage using artist’s photograph of the Black Forest

Like all my work, the drawing of “The Russian Doll” made with red, blue, green and black Biro acts on several levels and is symbolic of issues relating to war.  The self-portrait layered over the doll’s face, represents ordinary women “like you and me”.

For further information about the symbolism of this piece please visit my website: :http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_4657711.html

Luxury Archival Pigment Prints crafted by http://mrjacklowe.com/  are available from my shop:http://www.janeleemccracken.co.uk/photo_8181965.html

'The Russian Doll', Archival Pigment Print

“The Russian Doll”, Archival Pigment Print series