I thought it might be useful to post this interview with Jason Loftus giving an overview to the Considering Silesia project, posted last year on Soundcloud: –
Saturday 8th February
Several years ago, shortly after starting the Silesia project, so that’s probably about ten years now because it was around this time of year too – my mothers birthday – I spoke to Mum about beginning this work. I’m reminded of this conversation because of the watercolour sketches I’m currently working on towards ‘Document Sudetenland’ based on iPad screen grabs from a YouTube video of the 1945 film of people in Sudetenland taken by American soldiers – the dead, the dying, the beaten up and raped, those on the move and those finally triumphant – a group spitting.
I asked Mum if there were any family photographs from Silesia. “Photographs?!” She exclaimed – she was pretty suspicious then about my motives for looking into all this about Silesia: “Why do you want to know?” she had asked earlier, and then I didn’t really know – “There aren’t any photographs. We had to GO! Many uncles didn’t come back!”
I didn’t raise the issue again, but that statement stayed with me. Both the urgency of the family having to leave with no possessions – just themselves – and the “many uncles” that I’d never heard of before or since.
Some years later, usually sat at the kitchen table late at night, I began to create a series of deliberately crude portraits of sorts – kind of invented memories, using my iPod Touch and the drawing app Adobe Ideas at its simplest setting – big fat marks that built up in layers to create ideas of faces, the beginnings of what might be personalities, my thinking about all these uncles I never knew of, who didn’t come back.
Monday 20 January
Okay, it was a fine sunny morning, gorgeous as I watched the dawn lighten the sky, so today I finally made a start. After months of looking, thinking, trying to figure out how to do it, still not really knowing, thinking more, researching materials, watching videos, grabbing stills, thinking more… now I’ve started to paint. Not much – I began eight small watercolours – but though the light was great today, it took me a while to set up, sort brushes and blocks of paper out, mix pigments, and attack. To allow for thorough drying, I only managed to get a couple of layers done – they weren’t quite dry when I had to leave, even though it was fairly warm in the studio (the sunshine helps) but they’ll be fine in the morning, and I may well start a few more paintings. In many respects, starting paintings is the fun bit – chucking the paint around – it gets trickier the further they develop.
I’m not totally convinced by the colours that I mixed, and I did tinker with the proportions a bit, but for a first test, they’ll do – I’ll try other mixes later. I had another look at a couple of the source images on Photoshop tonight, increasing the saturation to more clearly see what are pretty subtle colours, so that will help these first tests.
I’m not even sure of the appropriate “how” to apply the paint – what kinds of marks, what kinds of brushes will work, but I’ve got to start somewhere. (I was thinking earlier today, while painting, that I seem to be a professional at not knowing what I’m doing, always trying to find a new way, always looking to surprise myself – that’s where the fun is!)
I’ve been wanting to do something with this stuff since I found out about it right at the beginning of my project, so sometime around 2003 or 2004, and certainly since I found the first video – the first documentary film as far as I know – of the subject. And while I was doing my research MA at Nottingham Trent University I did a couple of paintings based on that first film. But I knew the subject was contentious, with some politically unsavoury associations, indeed probably pretty dangerous, some of the websites and organisations I found myself researching were quite scary and I wasn’t ready to tackle the issue too directly and moved away from that particular strain.
Ten years later, I’m not convinced that I am now, but finding the second video on YouTube last year (via an article on Stern magazine or Der Spiegel online – I forget the exact source just now), hidden ever since the end of the war and only recently released, dragged it from the back of my mind and made me think about it – partly because the indistinct images on the video looked just like the paintings I was doing from low-resolution jpegs a few years ago.
Anyway, in broad-brush terms, I think I’ve got a basic idea of how to make the material work, and I’ve got to make a presentation in Primary during February, so it seems right to at least test the idea – the right time and the appropriate platform for such a test.
I had planned to start painting over the holiday visit to my parents in Germany, but got sidetracked by Christmas and family issues, not least of which is the impending move of my parents from the house they built over thirty years ago. I quickly saw this aspect as a kind of small continuation of the story – somewhat sentimental, but it seems to fit – and spent a little time every day drawing a small rose tree in their garden on my phone. So these drawings will be woven into the project.
Continuation or continuum seem to be the right kinds of words. In many respects we’re still living in the aftermath of WW2.
I grew up with the propaganda of Hollywood and Ealing, naively expected the end of hostilities to be just that, so I was surprised to discover it wasn’t anything like as clean as portrayed. Not that I should have been – I guess I hadn’t thought about it.
Monday 27 January
I think my meeting with Rebecca Beinart today has lead me to some early childhood memories of times in Bavaria, especially in Buchloe so they must be really early, more feelings than memories and remembering objects and spaces, like the main room of my grandparents apartment (it might only have had two rooms), the cooking range, the bench seat at the dining table, a bed, the communal basement with its cages for family possessions, the lines in the square where people beat carpets, watching a stag beetle crawl in the dust, the grey colour of the apartment buildings, fresh semeln fetched by my Opa for breakfast…
Monday 3 February
These memories led me to start a small sketch of what little memory I have of the apartment blocks basement – or an attempt to gather its atmosphere. I’ve spent a number of hours working on the drawing (using the app Sketchbook Mobile on my phone – so the image really is quite small) over a couple of evenings – the last into the early hours – time does almost fly when I’m involved in a drawing. It still needs working on, but I like the idea of trying to grasp these early memories and somehow fit them into place, a further layer, even if I don’t yet know how
I thought people might like to see some of the “in progress” stages of some of the Winter Fires iPad drawings – principally because they are visible during the playback video on YouTube, though one or two of them were printed in the book too. However, these were mostly done for the group portraits, where I had to sketch out each portrait very simply as a separate layer to reduce and assemble into the group, and then work into.
They weren’t really drawn to see seperately – so this is just a little bonus from the working process.
A selection of the finished iPad portraits are about to be featured with a new text by François Matarasso, based on a recent filmed ‘conversation’ between us, in the American academic journal Anthropology and Aging Quarterly in March 2013.
You can get the book Winter Fires with the portraits free of charge from
The Baring Foundation, 60 London Wall, London EC2M 5TQ
Tel: 020 7767 1348 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or as a free PDF download from the link on François Matarasso’s site: –
The playback video has been posted to YouTube, and available to view on my previous blog post: –
Now on YouTube – I’ve just uploaded the iPad Brushes “playback” videos from a series of portraits I created for the book (and book launch of) “Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age” by François Matarasso and published by The Baring Foundation, London, UK.
Sit back and relax with a cup of tea – it has lovely music, you can see every mark as it is created and it is 11:24 minutes long 🙂
The book, including the drawings, is available free from The Baring Foundation, 60 London Wall, London EC2M 5TQ, UK Tel: +44 (0)20 7767 1348 Email: email@example.com
or as a download from