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Revisiting Utopia

Utopia Revisited
Revisiting Utopia

Utopia – eight talking heads reading from Thomas More’s Utopia – is my favourite piece in the Penny Woolcock: Fantastic Cities exhibition that is still showing at Modern Art Oxford. There are eight people involved, each given a square in the four by two grid and shown some of the time in the head and shoulders view here and otherwise from a little further away with their full upper body.

Last year, I shared a fairly abstract sketch I did. Today, I decided to use my lunch break and see if I could capture some more realistic likenesses. It wasn’t easy as the room was still quite dark and, no sooner would I get a detail down on paper, than the view of that person would switch and I’d have to go back to working on my sketch of one of the others. That makes for a fascinating and somewhat challenging exercise. However, I’m pleased with the overall result.

I started with pencil, chipping away at each portrait. Once I’d reached a point where (as far as I could tell in the dim light), I’d got about as far as I was going to with that, I went back and inked in some of the key details then used a damp brush to wash some of the ink out across parts of the background.

Over the course of the drawing exercise, I heard the full extract from Utopia several times over. As before, I was struck by how radical it sounded. I must revisit it as I’m now curious about whether More was truly thinking radical thoughts or if he was satirising such things. Was it a eutopia (good place) he dreamed of? Whatever his intentions, it has become one of the most influential places in the world that never existed (utopia – no place)! Inspired by the exhibition, I might see if I can make time to revisit the book and its milieu before too long.

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