DRAW­ING THE NA­TION TO­GETHER

The TV art show that strips back em­bar­rass­ment to un­cover our naked tal­ent

Daily Express - - CORONAVIRU­S: COURAGE OF RETURNING NURSES - By Deb­o­rah Coll­cutt

DRAW­ING is like mak­ing a lasagne. It re­quires var­i­ous dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents, in­struc­tions on the method – and prac­tice .“You wouldn’t ex­pect to just make one for the first time without any help at all, so why do peo­ple think draw­ing is any dif­fer­ent?” asks artist Diana Ali. Diana is one of four pre­sen­ters who will be pro­vid­ing that guid­ance tonight as the BBC broad­casts a life draw­ing class live.

View­ers will be able to watch and draw along as BBC weath­er­man and keen artist-To­masz Schafer­naker and am­a­teur artists at home and in the so­cially dis­tanced stu­dio cap­ture a series of life model poses, based on clas­si­cal works of art.

The first ever Life Draw­ing Live was broad­cast as a one-off in Jan­uary and fea­tured co­me­dian Jenny Eclair and ac­tor Sally Phillips. The show’s mak­ers were so over­whelmed by the re­sponse from the pub­lic that they have brought the pro­gramme back.

“We were so ab­so­lutely in­un­dated with view­ers send­ing in their por­traits that the sys­tem al­most crashed,” says Diana who, to­gether with pre­sen­ters and artists Josie d’Arby, Lach­lan Goudie and Nicky Philipps, will be shar­ing their pas­sion and ex­per­tise again.

“I looked through tens of thou­sands of draw­ings from mem­bers of the pub­lic and all I get is the name and where they’re from. I was like: ‘Rachel from Not­ting­ham, you’re amaz­ing!’

“I just hope they gained so much con­fi­dence from cre­at­ing some­thing so won­der­ful that they have con­tin­ued draw­ing.”

Diana is on a mis­sion to stamp out two taboos with the pro­gramme: em­bar­rass­ment sur­round­ing nu­dity and im­per­fec­tion and the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that only “the gifted” should try to draw.

“Life draw­ing classes were al­ready re­ally pop­u­lar be­fore lock­down be­cause peo­ple have be­come much more open about nu­dity,” she says. “We all have bod­ies – don’t be ashamed of them!

“Draw­ing fe­male life mod­els has been go­ing on for cen­turies but we also have a lot more male mod­els nowa­days and it’s not about be­ing ex­clu­sive with your bod­ies – we all have breasts, we all have a bum and the best mod­els are the hon­est mod­els where we have flesh, where we have a bits of flab and that is hon­est work.

“Oth­ers draw­ing them love that re­as­sur­ance be­cause they go, ‘Ok, I’m not some­one skinny or a su­per­model – this is like me’.

“It gives peo­ple at home a real con­fi­dence to put the pen on the pa­per and as soon as they do they stop look­ing at the body and they start look­ing at the anatomy,

‘We were in­un­dated with view­ers send­ing in their por­traits. The sys­tem al­most crashed’

how we are all made up.

“The mod­els are very pro­fes­sional and they have the hard­est job stay­ing in one po­si­tion for so long. It’s about ac­cept­ing we all have the same bits and if it’s em­bar­rass­ing for peo­ple at home, well they’re be­yond the TV screen so who cares?” she says, laugh­ing.

Art is not about striv­ing for per­fec­tion. It should, ac­cord­ing to Diana, be about ex­pres­sion and free­dom.

“Peo­ple will be draw­ing at home so there’s no pres­sure, there’s no teacher look­ing over your shoul­der. For a lot of peo­ple the last time they did any art was at school and they were told they were rub­bish so they are scared of it.

“With art a lot of peo­ple think it has to be per­fect but it can be some­thing from your heart and soul. Some­times when we are an­gry we can ex­press our­selves with loud paints and char­coal and let the voice out. When you can’t say it ver­bally you can do it through the art­work.

“Art has many forms – ar­chi­tec­ture is art, so are the clothes we wear – we all have some­thing to say but it doesn’t have to con­form to a per­fect Re­nais­sance por­trait.

“I teach a lot of older peo­ple, lawyers, ac­coun­tants, builders who’ve come up to me and said, ‘I got some acrylics for Christ­mas, I’m go­ing to get them out!’ I teach an 86-year-old who’s de­cided she wants to do a de­gree in art – which is just fab.”

IT IS easy to see why the BBC has asked Diana to re­turn for the se­cond pro­gramme. Bub­bly and smi­ley, her en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion for art are in­fec­tious. Dur­ing our in­ter­view, she sketches me – she sends the fin­ished work hours later – and mul­ti­tasks ef­fort­lessly.

“I have never had to draw dur­ing an in­ter­view be­fore,” she laughs, and talks about how her early child­hood in Bangladesh has in­flu­enced her work.

“I do a lot of work with mud be­cause in Bangladesh I played with mud a lot, I loved get­ting my hands dirty.

“When I came to Eng­land aged six I had to wear these strange things called shoes and socks. I didn’t

‘The per­cep­tion of the hu­man body is that it’s dif­fi­cult to draw. Start with the ba­sics’

know any English. At school in Sal­ford where I grew up, they told us to paint a rain­bow and a house. I didn’t un­der­stand so I smeared the pa­per in black paint. I got prop­erly told off.”

Diana was de­ter­mined to prove her teach­ers wrong. She played with an­other Ban­gles­deshi boy but vowed that by the time she got to sec­ondary school, she’d be in the top class for English.

“And I was,” says Diana now proudly. “My dad came to Eng­land in the 1950s aged 12 and he didn’t have an ed­u­ca­tion so he was de­ter­mined that I would.

“I came home from school cry­ing ev­ery day be­cause I didn’t un­der­stand what ev­ery­one was say­ing but he taught me English and manners and how to be­have. I owe him so much.”

Thanks to a teacher, Diana, 41, was en­cour­aged to leave Manchester to study art in Not­ting­ham, where she still lives with her part­ner.

“I turned my back on art for a few years af­ter uni­ver­sity and was a pot washer,” says Diana. “I think you’ve got to do a me­nial job to re­alise ‘I’m bet­ter than this’.” She has been a lec­turer at Not­ting­ham Trent, Sh­effield Hal­lam and Lough­bor­ough uni­ver­si­ties and was al­ready teach­ing on­line when lock­down started. Now that Diana is fi­nally get­ting recog­nised as an artist, she is de­ter­mined to give some­thing back.

“I had to fight. When I was younger you would have to write to peo­ple and send your work in, go to gallery show­ings and go up to strangers and give them your busi­ness card. I was re­jected so many times but I em­braced it. If you don’t have prob­lems and ob­sta­cles you have noth­ing to fight for.

“As a good Mus­lim girl I was ex­pected to get mar­ried off. My mum still doesn’t get my art,” says Diana laugh­ing. “That’s ok, she’s re­ally lovely and she sup­ports me but she re­ally doesn’t get it.

“I fought for things – it took a while but that’s why I want to share it with other stu­dents.” Lock­down has had a real im­pact on the arts – not just in terms of per­for­mances and ex­hi­bi­tions but those study­ing the sub­ject will be the last to re­turn to their stu­dios at uni­ver­sity. Diana’s sum­mer has also taken on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent shape.

“I was due to be do­ing paint­ing re­treats in Italy and Por­tu­gal and work­ing with the Na­tional Jus­tice Mu­seum. That’s all can­celled now but it’s amaz­ing how we’ve all adapted – if you have an easel, you can teach on­line!”

Life Draw­ing Live also had to re­think how to broad­cast the pro­gramme to ad­here to so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules by halv­ing the num­ber of am­a­teur artists in the stu­dio from six to three, with a fur­ther six join­ing from home via live links. Film­ing will be at a dis­tance of at least three me­tres be­tween artists, mod­els, on-screen team and crew, lim­it­ing the num­ber of peo­ple on the stu­dio floor. Diana and Lach­lan will feed back to the pub­lic from a sep­a­rate room, close to the stu­dio.

DIANA is con­cerned about cuts to fund­ing for the arts, es­pe­cially in the wake of coro­n­avirus. “Arts cour­ses are be­ing shut down in schools. Mu­sic has al­ready gone and next will be art. It is not a soft course, we don’t want an en­tire gen­er­a­tion that can’t think cre­atively.

“I work with the cor­po­rate world, with com­pa­nies like KPMG, coun­cils, HR de­part­ments teach­ing em­ploy­ees who can’t think out­side of the box to chan­nel their cre­ativ­ity and think about their jobs in an ab­stract rather than a lit­eral way. You just can’t shut down arts cour­ses – we need that type of think­ing.”

What tips does Diana have for those join­ing in tonight? “As hu­man be­ings we over- com­pli­cate ev­ery­thing.The per­cep­tion of the hu­man body is that it’s dif­fi­cult to draw. Start with the ba­sics like mea­sur­ing out the head in re­la­tion to the body.”

Diana hopes we will emerge from lock­down a more cre­ative na­tion. “I hope we stay slowed down and ask our­selves: ‘What do I re­ally want out of life?’ Cre­ativ­ity was al­ways at the bot­tom of the ‘to do’ list.

“Now there is no ex­cuse and peo­ple have found that be­ing cre­ative has helped them not just to ex­press their frus­tra­tion at not be­ing able to see loved ones but also as a way of ex­press­ing their feel­ings about vi­tal themes, po­lit­i­cal themes.”

●Life Draw­ing Live!, a BBC Arts com­mis­sion, is on BBC Four to­day at 8pm

KEEN ARTIST: Weath­er­man To­masz

QUICK DRAW: The sketch of Deb­o­rah

LIFE LES­SON: Model from the TV show and, above, art teacher Diana

Pic­tures: ARABELLA ITANI/BBC; MAR­ION; JILL MANSELL & DIANA ALI let her down VIEWER SKETCH 1: But Jill’s pen­cil VIEWER SKETCH 2: Mar­ion’s draw­ing

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