What struck me about this picture at first viewing was the tight composition, the subtle palette and fascinating detail which draws the eye in and around the scene. It looked Japanese; the women’s faces slightly oriental and their costumes exotic and painstakingly depicted. A finely drawn wooden hull rises out of the water – all bulk and weight and grainy texture. On board the women are mostly bunched up with a few outliers, one immersed in the water.
I liked the piece immediately I saw it at the Aberdeen Artists Society exhibition in Aberdeen Art Gallery so I thought I’d look at more of the artist’s work.
Jodi Le Bigre’s approach is truly fascinating. Take the oil on wood, Feathers – it is an amazing painting soft and multi-faceted and coloured from a restricted her palette. The birds’ feathers are as sensuous as any 18th century fabric in say a Ramsay painting. In a humorous aside a bird in the botton right corner gazes at its own reflection in a stone or something shiny.
Looking through her website the variety of Jodi’s approaches become apparent. Just as she’s lived in different parts of the world – her native Canada, France, Japan and now Scotland so she’s been absorbing ideas and motifs from all manner of influences. It was in Paris that she learned printing which she’s used to great effect in Overgrowth.
In her oil, A Lonesome Place another of her fascinations is demonstrated – medieval life and imagery. Here she has created a frieze-like effect with the line of blue-faced people ranged in front of four idealised trees while in the foreground there are exotic and monster birds along with a fleshy woman exposing her leg and her ghost-like companion to her right. I’ve no idea what’s going on in the picture but it is fairly surreal and the more you look into it the spookier it becomes. The overgrown bird reminded me of Max Ernst’s fantastic and threatening species partly human.
Let’s take a closer look at Overgrowth, Jodi’s etching in black and sepia inks with touches of watercolour. The meticulous detailing that’s gone into the different costumes and effects in the water – hugely time-consuming and wholly worth it in the quality of the piece. The women share the same face, seen from different angles – pensive and guarded they consider their predicament.
If you look at the image at the start of this blog you can make out one or two strange green figures wrapped in ivy which I think allude to Jodi’s view that we become who we are by absorbing all sorts of influences from our environment including the natural world we pass through in life. In the picture ivy grows up around the boat, trapping it and some of the women within its tendrils – is this the overgrowth?
In Jodi’s own blog she includes a poem by Aberdeen’s makar Sheena Blackhall on Overgrowth.
Twenty Geishas went to sea
In a vessel of polished pine
The traders’ routes offered to fill their coffers
For sharing virtues free
The Flying Dutchman closed his sails
For the Geishas to step aboard
And what transpired it certainly fired
Their spirits which simply soared
The Marie Celeste, they encountered next
Do you wonder it’s not been found?
With kisses of honey and blandishments sunny
The steersman he ran aground
So if twenty Geishas you should see
When you’re sailing the ocean wide
Don’t let them on deck, your ship they will wreck
Keep hard on the starboard side!
I have always been delighted by illustrations from Grimms Fairy Tales and the like and pictorial references to medieval people, places and things. I like shape and form and the intricate little details that captivate the eye.
My favourite artist is Albrecht Durer who lived in Nuremberg in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Durer is the absolute master in precision and fine detailed draughtsmanship. His eye was impeccable. His sense of humour compelling. He was simply the greatest and most complete artist of his genre. His wonderful engraving of Melancholia I may represent his own feelings of melancholia on the death of his mother. Melancholia’s face is black, signifying black bile – four humours were believed to determine the constitution of any person – sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic with the latter associated with creativity. On Melancholia’s head sits a garland of herbs suggesting suffering and headaches which Durer suffered from following his bereavement. It is one of the prints on exhibition currently at Duff House in Aberdeenshire.
This work shows how he meticulously captured the construction and texture of the bird’s feathers. An Italian painter once asked to see the brushes he used for depicting fur and feathers and did not believe Durer when he picked up an ordinary bristle paintbrush.
This scene of Durer’s own city of Nuremberg, a mastery in composition leads us back to Jodi Le Bigre.
La Rencontre is a lovely example of her medieval hilltop town which could be anywhere in continental Europe. There are two figures in the foreground collecting branches presumably for fire or building. Behind them is the manmade world of stone town houses and churches and walls as in Durer’s picture the urban landscape occupies the background while around is the natural environment that supplies so much that is necessary for peoples’ existence.
Jodi recognises how we are shaped by our environments. Since coming to live in Aberdeen she has encountered the Doric. Take a look at this.
Lizzie’s Dother is a sweet, magical watercolour. Lizzie is crouched into the too-small frame provided by the artist for a woman of her bulk and so her skirts fall into creases that flow and bunch and give her form. The sweep of Lizzie’s long hair is repeated in the lines of the bundle that is her dother. And they are surrounded by lilies, symbolising innocence.
I think it reads in Doric along the bottom, She wis mindit o aa the ither quines at she’d held the same wye, which is just brilliant.
Communion belongs in a book of folk tales and shows Jodi’s undoubted talent to apply herself to so many different styles. Here an old woman has her back to us as she communes with her geese in front of peasant houses. Notice how the woman’s headscarf echoes the orange and shape of the birds’ beaks. Again the palette is muted and there is a sublime softness to the piece.
Marginalia is set in Aberdeen with the Citadel in the background and a Bosch-like clamour of figures occupying the foreground. The city’s iconic bird the seagull are shown harnessed as draught animals. The saved and the damned are separated by a sturdy Aberdeen hoose and oil supply vessels grace the backdrop of the north sea.
A Christmas card – Der Nikolaus – to my mind shows Santa Claus as Robbie Coltrane.
This drawing of a procession of matryoshka dolls in a scene out the Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. I don’t begin to understand the juxtaposition between the Russian granny dolls and the contemporary figures in the foreground but it’s fun and notice the third doll turning to gaze up at the gathering threat of the birds flying overhead.
I suspect the inside of Jodi’s brain is fairly interesting. I’ve not come across another artist who has reduced her figures to such a bare minimum as Jodi does in her composition comprising a group of skeletons oot and aboot including the child waving to us while her or his, it’s impossible to tell, parent is trying to direct the child’s attention to a birdy in the sky.
Here a plague doctor from Renaissance Italy shares space with a walrus, an acrobat and a stilt walker. As I said, the inside of Jodi’s head must be a place of wonder.
Young and brimming with talent Jodi Le Bigre – you can find her website at http://jodilebigre.com