Archive

Drawings by Lesley

Drawings of the Blind

Lesley: Early 1950s

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 most of them. Click on them to see them bigger. Seriously. At this size they are impossible to appreciate.

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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

There has been a very enthusiastic response to my post with my mother’s drawings of the eye-camp at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh. So here are ten more drawings from the series, in no particular order.

Food is distributed

Food is distributed

A lot of food has to be prepared to feed the large numbers of blind people, their families and attendants, the volunteer workers and the medical staff.

A volunteer worker sews bandages

A volunteer worker sews bandages

Self-reliance is important.

Patient with tattoos and nose ring

Patient with tattoos and nose ring

There’s a silicaceous dust that pervades the area, and a lot of the elderly end up with cataracts.

A partially sighted patient leads a blind one

A partially sighted patient leads a blind one

A volunteer with bedding

A volunteer with bedding

My mother had an eye for the logistical aspects of the project.

A patient naps while waiting

A patient naps while waiting

One of my favourite pictures.

A patient tries lenses while being fitted with spectacles

A patient tries lenses while being fitted with spectacles

Part of the free service.

Whitewash is prepared

Whitewash is prepared

In spite of the primitive conditions, the success rate is phenomenal. I think the communal nature of the thing, the fact that it’s done out of a spirit of service, helps the healing.

Volunteer nurse

Volunteer nurse

One of the doctors

One of the doctors

As you can see, she spent a lot of time at the eye camp. She got to know several of the doctors, nurses and helpers fairly well over the time. But it seems to me that she didn’t really have to know people to be able to produce incisive and sympathetic portraits.

Bandages in place for the op

More 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

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