Moche ceramics

I have a season pass to the Gold and the Incas exhibition, at the National Gallery of Australia. I like being able to spend time having a good look at one or two individual works in detail. I do this by drawing them. However drawing is proving very challenging in the low-light conditions in the exhibition. For a lot of the time while I was making these drawings  I couldn’t actually see the tip of my pencil on the page.

This visit I drew two ‘stirrup’ vases, (they get their name from the shape of the handle), although this is clearly not what their makers, the Moche people called them* because stirrups were not introduced into South America until the Spanish invasion, some 800 years after these pots had been made. Both of these works come from the Museo Larco, in Lima, Peru. Some highlights of the Museum ‘s collection are also accessible through the Google Art Project, which is both in English and Spanish.

Most striking in the vases on display are the portrait vases, where faces are deftly sculpted in the round and painted in strong colours.

Moche vase, portrait head, 100-800 AD, ceramic, from the collection of the Museo Larco, Lima, Peru ML000267.

Moche vase, portrait head, 100-800 AD, ceramic, from the collection of the Museo Larco, Lima, Peru ML000267.

I also made a second drawing of another Moche pot in the shape of four pepinos. The symbolism of the four melons is believed to be related to the four cardinal directions.

Moche culture, vase in the form of Pepinos, ceramic, from the collection of the Museo Larco, Lima, Peru ML006659.

Moche culture, vase in the form of Pepinos, ceramic, from the collection of the Museo Larco, Lima, Peru ML006659.

I particularly enjoy the colours used on these pots so once I got home I scanned and printed out the pictures I had drawn and then I indulged myself with a bit of good old-fashioned colouring in.

Moche pot with pepinos, 24 March 2014 watercolour.

Moche pot with pepinos, 24 March 2014 watercolour.

The coloured stripes on the face in the next image are not shadows. The face actually has two colours, umber on one side and a burnt sienna on the other, painted over the glazed terracotta and provide evidence of painted facial decoration.

Moche portrait pot, 24 March 2014, watercolour.

Moche portrait pot, 24 March 2014, watercolour.

*Actually the Moche pots are referred to as pacchas in the exhibition catalogue. These are ritual objects, also made in materials other than ceramics, which generally consist of a form that conducts or conduits liquid through them. These vessels were used in life and were also buried with the dead. Their symbolism is related to the connection between the exterior and interior ‘worlds’ that meet during rituals and at the moment of death.

Gold and the Incas

I love going to the National Gallery of Australia on New Year’s Day. It’s not too crowded and I think that looking at art is a fine way to get the year off to a good start. This was my first visit to see the latest NGA ‘blockbuster’ show Gold and the Incas. The subtitle, the Lost Worlds of Peru, gives a far more accurate summary of what’s on display. Yes there is a lot of gold, not to mention silver and precious stones on display, but to my eye it is the masterpieces of ceramics and textiles that are the outstanding elements of the exhibition. And BTW there’s not much from the Incas because the conquistadores nicked or melted down most of the good stuff. What is on show are artefacts from a number of cultures that existed in what is present day Peru, most of whom none of us has ever heard of.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

The lighting is kept very low in most of the rooms so doing drawings was a challenge. There  were also not many benches where you could sit to draw. Gallery rules allow for only the use of pencil and paper so most of my efforts were limited to quick sketches and taking notes for future reference. I subsequently decided to make a composite image of my drawings and then add colour to give some idea of what we saw.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Apart from the llama and the face mask most of the other sketches are just parts of larger objects. In case you were wondering about the strange grey and black blob on the left hand side it is actually a person silhouetted against a large cloak that is covered in squares of beaten silver. People, including myself, seemed to be quite transfixed by this piece and often stood still long enough for me to draw them. The burial mask illustrated above also has an interesting provenance as it is one of the items of ‘tribal art’ that was collected by the Surrealist artist Max Ernst. The NGA purchased Ernst’s collection in 1985.

Having made my initial sortie I plan to go back and try to selectively draw some of the other works on display. This exhibition runs until 21 April 2014.