The present exhibition at the British Museum contains 130 objects that are at least 10,000 years old. Jill Cook curator of the show has brought together a fascinating range of prehistoric artifacts. She has called the show the making of the Modern Mind and believes our ancient ancestors used the same skills as us in producing art. The people who made these beautiful objects were able to make considered decisions about the marks required to create both realistic and symbolic representaions of their world.
She asks us to reposition these objects as sophisticated artefacts worthy of aesthetic contemplation in their own right. If we look closely a variety of marks are used to convey shading and texture. The animals are realistically portrayed. Anyone who has tried to draw will appreciate the skill reqiured to convey a realistic object with minimal line. There is no room for mistakes in these images which are drawn directly onto bone/ivory These artists were able to respond to the shapes suggested by the materials they were using. One example is a leaping horse which utilises the curve of the bone to convey the suggestion of movement. The animals are beautifully observed and instantly recognisable.
Jill Cook gave an interesting lecture on the female figures in the exhibition all of which are individual and unique. The figures have exaggerated proportions and often depict women that are pregnant or who have given birth. It is unusual for them to have facial features which may have been a way of representing a universal idea of woman, rather than a personal portrait. The figures gaze is usually looking down rather than at the viewer. She was cautious of giving direct interpretations, as we will never really know what they meant to the people who created them. They create more questions than answers. However they are exquiste objects which had a significant impact on twentieth century artists such as Picasso and Henry Moore, and offer us a glimpse of our own deep history. As Andrew Graham Dixon states "Making art starts as early as we start to live together, rather than as a product of civilization". He says these people were the same as us in their levels of curiosity, and that "this is not prehistory, it is our history".
Chris Ruston, drawing
Gouche, graphite. watercolour paper.