On 25 April 2014 I went to the launch of the book “This is Belgium”. Little did I know that I would have seen there an extraordinary piece of art…one of those that remain stuck in my mind for a long time.
It was a drawing. Committed especially for the launch of the “This is Belgium” book. It was executed at the premises of “The Word” magazine, where the launch took place, over 5 consecutive days. It was huge, covering almost the entire length of a wall, drawn in pencil and pastels. The artist, a 20-year old German, Brussels-based, art student at La Cambre, called Ida Michel.
It is basically a weekend depiction of a house full of guests. In the middle of the drawing, the living room with the kitchen at the back. On the left, the entrance with 2 guests arriving and their parked car. On the right, the garden with some barbecuing and sitting around a table.
The scene itself is quite ordinary. Why did it affect me so much then?
Lets start with the drawing skills. The perspective is perfectly depicted. There are three different spaces in this house, and the perspective is perfect throughout. But there is more than this. There is something extraordinary about it. The perspective in the drawing changes as you walk past it. Basically, because the drawing is so large, in order to look at it in detail, I needed to walk from one end to the other. There are 5-6 (maybe more) steps involved in the process. As I was walking from left to right or right to left, the perspective and the size of the things I saw in front of me, the things I saw behind me and the things I saw further down, changed. So, it felt like I was outside of the house to the left, I entered and the living room looked larger, the garden to the right looked smaller…I walked on past the large glass doors and then the garden looked larger while the living room I left behind looked smaller. Exactly what would have happened in real life. It was the exact effect that would happen in real life if I were walking inside this house.
And the effect was the same even I stood right back and looked at it…again the drawing is so large that the eyes needed to roll through it… they cannot capture the whole scene in one go. And as the eyes rolled through it, the different scenes looked bigger and smaller in exactly the same way.
What I am trying to say is that the drawing skills were not just excellent…there was something more about it….it wasn’t just a good perspective drawing, but it was interactive somehow…
At the same time, and while all the drawing had perfect perspective and proportion, the men were disfigured! Their upper body disproportionately large compared to the lower part, their chests leaning forward. They all wore bright coloured-tops, which exaggerated the effect even more. This was actually the first thing I noticed about the drawing. It struck me how this disfiguration accurately reflected the superiority that men believe to possess…and how the male perception of themselves can lead to dominance if left unchallenged.
I asked the artist why she drew the men like that. She said, with a disgust she tried hard to hide, that this is how she saw them. I then looked back at the drawing and I realized that the disfigured depiction of the men was meant to ridicule them. In a drawing of perfect proportion and perspective, the disfigured men looked like fools. And worse still, they looked like fools who don’t realize that they are fools. Genius!
The last and I guess most important thing about this drawing is its interpretation of “middle class”. This house is obviously somewhere in the suburbs, mostly somewhere like Uccle, a newly built, architect designed, modernist prototyped house. And the owners and guests are obviously middle class, but also obviously had not always been middle class. They do not appear to naturally possess the “innate superiority of the elite”, but have rather tried to copy it as they started becoming richer through service oriented jobs. And they copied it through checklists. Designer house, check (even if the objects themselves do not fit between them). Simple clothes of pure materials, check. Designer glasses, check. Slim and well kept figures, check. Expensive cars, check. Garden parties, check. Barbecues, check. Looking at the drawing, you can also imagine that they probably also send their kids to private schools, go on skiing holidays, to the theatre etc. All typical bourgeoisie.
What is particularly interesting though, is that, even though the men look happy in this environment, the women don’t. Most of them look unhappy, sad, depressed, spaced out. Which is again an exact accurate reflection of reality. Class and the society based on money and physical possessions are invented by men. And it is men who give value to these things and get a sense of achievement out of them. Women follow as they follow anything else. But these things are against the nature of women who tend to centre their values around relationships, emotions, people. It is women who more often have nervous breakdowns in these circumstances (I am especially worried about the woman on the left with the green trousers…).
All these in one drawing. Well done Ida Michel. I have no idea how at your very young age you managed to capture all these.
And I could, of course, be entirely wrong. The drawing could be just a beautiful drawing of happy people enjoying a day barbecuing with their friends. But to the extent that the drawing allowed me to give it an interpretation based on my own troubled thoughts, then that is an extraordinary achievement by the artist in itself.
Well done indeed.
The photos have been taken from the website of "The Word" magazine here.
If you want to have a look at (or even buy!) the drawing, the best thing would be to contact "The Word" magazine or the artist directly through her website.