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Lesley refuted all my criticisms of her art posthumously. Tidying her effects, I found a series of pencil drawings tucked into folders and hidden under a bed in her studio. As long as I can remember, Lesley collected paper – cartridge, watercolour paper, papers with light textures for drawing – and these had accumulated in folders and drawers. At last she had found a use for them – paper now yellowed or blotched with age, slightly frayed at the edges from being moved, suitable for recording the old and infirm. There were ninety-six drawings and two reproductions of drawings when I assembled them all.* They were made at an outdoor eye clinic at the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, and are mostly of patients, the elderly blind who had come to the clinic in large numbers for cataract removal operations.

427 blindman

These drawings avoided the pietism of her later paintings, they avoided the allegorical, and they avoided the cartoon-like abstractions that she developed for illustrating children’s books. They avoided technical skill, for although the exe-cution was skilful, their ease transcended it. They stood as a single great work, a document of suffering and compassion finally integrating her life and her art. In these pictures of lovingly-observed affliction, the hearts and eyes of the blind strain heavenward for the light, through the body’s frailty.

427 blind 2Wanting to follow what I understood to be her wish, I arranged for the drawings to be sent to the Dera ashram, to be made into a book by the publication department. I kept the two reproductions.

Fifteen years later, I write the following note to the Secretary of the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, where the drawings now lie, unless they have been moved, lost or forgotten:

When Gurinder Singh Ji first came to Cape Town I showed him a collection of about a hundred drawings done by my mother, Lesley Luitingh, of patients at the Dera Eye Hospital during the 1980s. Shortly thereafter, my brother took the drawings to Beas and personally put them into Baba Ji’s hands. The intention, as I recall, was to use the drawings, which were of an extremely high quality, in a book on the eye camp, or to otherwise use them to the benefit of people. 

I am currently engaged in writing a memoir of my motheand I am keen to revisit in some way the drawings. I wonder whether you have any record of these artworks, and whether there is any way that I could access reproductions of them, or even the originals. Any assistance or information in this regard would be received with gratitude.

After some months, the following reply arrives on the Radha Soami Satsang Beas letterhead:

The drawings of the patients at the Dera Eye Camp by your late mother are with us, they are 96 in number. You can certainly have them back. We request you to please depute someone coming to Dera to collect them from us for you. We would not like to risk sending them by mail for obvious reasons.

With kind regards.

With warm Radha Soami greetings,

Yours affectionately

T. K. Sethi

I set in motion the process of deputing the collection, and await the return of the drawings with a restless eagerness.

__________

* More of these drawings can be seen here.

__________

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These are the last few drawings which I have been able to scan. The rest, over fifty of them, are too big.

Pre-operative patients having their eye-sockets sterilised in preparation for the op.

Pre-operative patients receive eye-drops in preparation for the op.

Bandages in place for the op

Bandages in place for the op

Post-operative patient

Post-operative patient

Happy post-op patient

Happy post-op patient

One of the surgeons

One of the surgeons

The chief surgeon. He could do hundreds of cataract ops in a day

The chief surgeon. He could do hundreds of cataract ops in a day

Charan Singh, the guru at whose behest the eye camp takes place, with surgeon

Charan Singh, the guru at whose behest the eye camp takes place, with surgeon

A voluntary worker carrying food - chapattis under a cloth

A voluntary worker carrying food – chapattis under a cloth

The eye-camp taking place outdoors and in the countryside, the natural world also gets a look-in:

Wherever humans are, there are crows too

Wherever humans are, there are crows too

A squirrel gleaning

A squirrel gleaning

A water-buffalo seen from atop a buffalo-drawn cart

A water-buffalo seen from atop a buffalo-drawn cart

And here is a page from one of Lesley’s sketch-books from roughly 40 years before. It shows that her characteristic style, the build-up of lines with fast hatching, accompanied by single modulated lines, goes right back to her twenties.

Page from Lesley's sketch-book, ca 1948

Page from Lesley’s sketch-book, ca 1948

 

A patient naps while waiting

More here

Blind child

and here

Lesley: Early 1950s

Lesley: Early 1950s

Lesley: 1984

Lesley: 1984

My mother, who signed her paintings with her first name, Lesley, was born Lesley de Villiers. Later she was Lesley Cope, then, after 1960, she was Lesley Luitingh. She died in a road accident in 1989.

Tidying her effects after her death, I found a series of pencil drawings tucked into folders and hidden under a bed in her studio. For as long as I can remember, Lesley collected paper – cartridge, water-colour paper, papers with light textures for drawing – and these had accumulated in fold­ers and drawers. At last she had found a use for them – paper now yellowed or blotched with age, slightly frayed at the edges from being moved, suitable for the recording of the old and infirm. There were ninety-six drawings and two reproductions of drawings when I assembled them all. The drawings were of an outdoor eye clinic at the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, and are mostly of patients, the elderly blind who had come to the clinic in large numbers for cataract removal operations. These draw­ings avoided the pietism of her later paintings, they avoided the allegorical, and they avoided the cartoon-like ab­stractions that she developed for illustrating children’s books. They avoided technical skill, for though the exe­cution was skilful, their ease transcended it. They stood as a single great work, a document of suffering and com­passion finally integrating her life and her art. In these pictures of lovingly-observed affliction, the hearts and eyes of the blind strain heavenward for the light, through the body’s frailty.

Here are a few. Click on them to see them bigger:

Prepared for op - hair washed

Prepared for op – hair washed

Blind child

Blind child

Post-op. This woman was a friend of my mother's

Post-op. This woman was a friend of my mother’s

Elderly blind woman awaits examination

Elderly blind woman awaits examination

Bandages on a washing-line

Bandages on a washing-line

Volunteer nurse with bedpan

Volunteer nurse with bedpan

Man with stick - post-op

Man with stick – post-op

Post-op patient

Post-op patient

Elderly patient

Elderly patient

lesley-021

Old men, post-op

Blind child

Click here for more

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