Metropolis

I have joined in a Kick About! It’s a bit of creative play organised by Phil Gomm over at Red’s Kingdom. Phil provides a prompt and we have a couple of weeks or so to make something. It’s casual. Lovely!

I have been wanting to do something calm and creative to harvest all this turbulent Isolation Energy. (The dreams! Is anyone else having crazy dreams?) There seem to be a lot of Creative Challenges that have popped up to keep people busy during isolation. But with already more than enough actual work to complete, they weren’t calling to me.

Then I saw Phil Cooper’s glorious artwork for the previous Kick About topic, and I jumped on the band wagon. The current theme is Metropolis, which could mean any metropolis, but I have taken it to be the 1927 German expressionist Sci-fi film by Fritz Lang, because it’s one of my favourite films. I have fond memories of being taken along to it as a teenager by my big brother. My eyes were nearly popping out of my head.

I started with my usual black ink. I chopped up and printed from a few bits of foam to create an impression of the Metropolis City. And a fountain of water.

But some of the most compelling memories of the movie for me were the scenes in the Rich Men’s pleasure gardens. I was thinking of using the city scene as a backdrop behind the gardens. I coloured it and knocked back the contrast, but ultimately it was too distracting to use behind my main subject, which had more than enough going on with the plants.

The Pleasure Gardens are extraordinary. They are stupendously opulent, and are filled with tumescent plants and feature a scalloped grotto and various fountains. In them two very striking scenes take place. In one, an unprepossessing petty official pompously selects a concubine, as though choosing a piece of fruit from a fruit bowl. She is to entertain Freder, later that day.

In the other scene, Freder frolics with the girl in the garden, playing a game of chasey around a fountain, when suddenly from a doorway, the angelic Maria appears surrounded by children. ‘Look, these are our brothers,’ she says.

Some of my doodles of small 1920s children.

Need I say it? Freder is dumbstruck. Smitten. The poor concubine becomes insignificant, and her distress is evident in her face and posture, as she fails to retain Freder’s attention. She’ll be demoted, no doubt. Or something…

I wasn’t really sure which of these scenes I was going to play about with. It turned out to be sort of both. But really, the gardens themselves became the main subject.

I placed the children and Maria in the garden, and some concubines. But they seemed somehow too literal, and it was too busy. Surprisingly, it was Freder’s moment of suspense and call to action that won me over. And only he remained in this scene.

I decided to make a second scene featuring the bureaucrat selecting the concubine and had several goes at different forms for the women, some exaggerating their body parts and others not.

I was pleased with my version of the bureaucrat as a stiff little penguin creature with big eyes and yellow socks. So after a few different versions, battling to find a balance between background and foreground, whilst still using my favourite black ink for the figures, I made the girls into bird people as well.

It’s still not entirely resolved. Especially with regards to the background colour. But I really enjoyed using a muted art deco palette, heavily infused with black, because it suggested the darkness of the film without actually being black and white.

It’s just a Kick About. So that’s it for now. It did give me lots of ideas, and took me into some wacky places that were very refreshing. Thanks so much Phil Gomm and also Phil Cooper!

9 thoughts on “Metropolis

  1. Phil Cooper

    Absolutely love your pleasure garden images Judy, and so pleased you’re doing the kick about too. I remember seeing Metropolis when I was very young and was really struck by the scenes in the garden; it felt more strange and alien than the sci-fi cityscapes somehow. Gorgeous feel you’ve brought to these images , bravo!

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    1. Judy Watson Post author

      Thanks so much Phil! I really enjoyed it. I’m quite hooked on plants and creating imaginative landscapes at the moment. and I’m looking forward to watching the film again. :-)

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  2. philgomm

    Judy! (Where’s that useful emoji with the yellow face with stars for eyes?) Wow, what a gorgeous response and I love all the character drawings too. Thanks so much for agreeing to come out and play. Right then, I’m just off to include all these treats in the Metropolis showcase. Thanks again.

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    1. Judy Watson Post author

      Ha ha! Liz, thanks so much for your comments. I love that it’s a kick about. I don’t need to perfect anything or resolve everything perfectly. Nobody will judge it, and nobody will publish it. It really was a much needed break. :-)

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  3. Clive Hicks-JenkinsHicks-Jenkins

    Love the imagery here, those wonderful bird women in their showgirl costumes. The colours work extremely well, not least because of that sense of mechanical tinting that we see in hand-tinted early black and white films. I liked reading about the thought process and how you arrived at your conclusions, because for me that’s absolutely how the best illustration works: freeing the mind, taking liberties and being playful so that the work becomes a new thing, rather than an ‘illustration’ per se.

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  4. Clive Hicks-Jenkins

    (I thought I’d left a comment only to have it disappear, so if you find two here, please delete one.) I love this post and the artwork in it. The descriptions of carrying the ideas through a thought process are bang-on. This is the way illustration should be but too often is not. The word itself has become a a pejorative term because of its literal associations. But the reality is that ‘illustrating’ is a wonderful thing when there’s the lively dialogue that’s evident here, between you and a silent film made long ago. If anyone were to make a book of ‘Metropolis’, this is it. Not a slavish copying of what appeared in the film, but the film as a wonderful springboard to fresh creativity. If this comment comes across as particularly heartfelt, it’s because right now I’m working on the translation of a much-loved film into a book, and exactly the same processes are going on as you’ve written about here.

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    1. Judy Watson Post author

      Oh yes, Clive I know just what you mean. Thanks for your comments. I did read your post about La Belle et la Bête. It’s beautiful work you’re doing and I know that film has influenced you for a long time. I bought a copy a few years ago after reading one of your posts. Sorry about the disappearing comment. It’s because I’ve turned on comment moderation recently. I didn’t want to, but some inappropriate comments were getting on to my blog by accident. Long story. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment twice. :-)

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