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Drawn to Obsession – Reportage

Topolski Studio’s reportage drawing programme,  ‘The Chronicle Residency Programme’

By Gary Embury

I first made contact with Andrea Marie the education and outreach officer at Topolski century at the end of 2011. I was at the beginning of a period of research leave from UWE working on a book proposal and developing the online Journal, Reportager.  I had just left the London studio of Olivier Kugler and returning to Waterloo station found myself standing outside Topolski Century. I had been aware of Feliks Topolski’s amazing reportage drawing work for some time but hadn’t up to that point visited the studio.

Topolski Studio is now an arts educational organisation actively engaging with the legacy of artist Feliks Topolski.  The studio is based in the first artist’s studio Topolski established on the South Bank in 1953, where he hand-printed over 2,300 drawings as his broadsheet Chronicles, documenting key events and figures of the twentieth century

Topolski sketchbook

Topolski Studio, in partnership with Reportager, University of the West of England, ran the first reportage drawing residency programme from September 2013. The scheme intends to train young people not in education, employment or training, for a three-month programme of reportage drawing. The Residency offers six students the opportunity to work together to produce, handprint and distribute the ‘Chronicle’, a broadsheet of reportage drawing chronicling contemporary issues of the twenty-first century, just as artist Feliks Topolski did of the twentieth. They have now drawn, amongst other places, at Frontline Club and Winsor Races, fracking site protests at Balcombe and the soon to be demolished Heygate estate in London.

Heygate Estate by Louis Vinet

Feliks Topolski was a war artist and chronicler of London’s social and cultural scene. Born in Warsaw in 1907, Topolski settled in London after he came to Britain in 1935 to record King George V’s Silver Jubilee. As an official war artist he joined the first Arctic convoy to Russia in 1941 and went on to visit and document nearly every major war front. He was in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two weeks after its liberation in April 1945, and later attended, and drew, the Nuremberg Trials. After the war, Topolski painted murals for the Festival of Britain and Elizabeth II’s Coronation for Buckingham Palace.

Topolski sketchbook

Heygate Estate by Matt Brooker

From 1953, for almost 30 years, Topolski printed his drawings in a bi-monthly broadsheet Chronicle. Each issue was devoted to a different subject depicting the many current affairs of the time. They include documenting his travels to China in 1966 at the start of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the Democratic Convention riots in Chicago in 1968, as well as his encounters with many leading figures from Gandhi to Shaw, Churchill to Martin Luther King to members of the Black Panther Party as well as stage and screen giants such as Edith Evans, Alec Guiness and Laurence Olivier.

Topolski Studio’s Chronicle for the twenty-first century will report issues and events through reportage drawing. The Residents will be supported to draw on location through a series of drawing workshops run by the editor of Reportager and Master classes with internationally acclaimed practising professionals. They will also gain an apprenticeship at Topolski studio in printmaking, working together to plan, edit and handprint the Chronicle on Topolski Studio’s printing press.

The students taking part in the programme are encouraged to be artistically innovative by using the Chronicle as an intervention in current drawing practices, and use print as a strategy for social and political engagement. At the end of their Residency, an exhibition of the work will be hosted in Bristol and London. The Chronicle will be distributed locally, nationally and internationally.

The programme is intended to be on going once the pilot has been concluded and the drawings and workshop outcomes will be available online.

For information contact Andrea Marie the Education and Outreach officer. education@topolskistudio.org.uk

There is an exhibition of the work on 12th December at the Vibe Gallery in London.

Vibe Gallery & Bar

N001 The Biscuit Factory

Tower Bridge Business Complex

100 Clements Rd, London,

SE16 4DG


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