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Despite having left Syston, on the outskirts of Leicester, decades ago, I still swell with pride at the many of the city’s achievements, only to cringe at some of its gaffes. The King Richard III wax head, commisioned by The King Richard III Society, fits into the latter category. I know he’s dead but does his waxwork effigy have to look even deader?
Last week I asked whether this is the best Leicester can do in my article Richard III – really, Leicester? Really? and included a poll to get your views. Before I reveal the answers you gave, here’s an update on that.
On Tuesday, I emailed Leicester’s voice, the Leicester Mercury, to drum up some publicity and get the newspaper’s thoughts on the subject. The response was almost instant, coming in the form of an automaton telling me my email had been received. The device went on to intimate my computer might accidentally get a virus as a result of the exchange. It was the sort of unsolicited nod, towards the direction I should take, I might’ve expected from a mafiosi cyborg cracking its titanium knuckles. Know what I mean? It could just as well have read, “I godda some verry clumsy friends wanna meeta your lapa’top, innit?” Maybe I hit a raw nerve. Obviously, best not to mess with the mechanical biffs manning the newsdesk.
Though there’s little doubt Leicester and Leicesterhire folk owe a great debt to the King Richard III Society for helping get to the bottom of the riddle of King Richard’s bones, there’s one bone left needs picking. In this day and age why on earth do we have to endure a head that looks like a tatty waxwork exhibit from a House of Horrors sideshow in a 1950s travelling fair?
Last week I was being kind, choosing the best photo I could find, this week I show the harsh reality. Judge for youselves from the selection at the top of this article. With all the advantages of modern techonlogy and materials can it be so hard to make something that actually looks like a real human head? Having spent a lot of time with the well-known sculptor Karen Newman, when I lived in London years ago, the answer is an emphatic “no.”
Karen used to live at her old studio in Holland Park’s Pottery Lane long before the area became popular among billionaire tax evaders and sleazy toffs. In the 1970s we used to spend hours and hours together listening to Van Morrison records scraping round and round her record deck while staring at the colours dancing across her walls. Things have looked up since the days we hung out, but I don’t think the two are necessarily connected.
Karen has worked for Madame Tussaud’s on a freelance basis since 1980. Her long list of famous works include the heads of Yoko Ono, Prince Philip, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, David Hockney and Hugh Grant. Pictured here is her excellent wax head of artist David Hockney. Karen is just one example of a contemporary sculptor, who has experience of working in wax, capable of injecting life into the sculptures of her subjects. There are more just as capable.
With photos of the wax head of King Richard III being published in newspapers and magazines all over the world, as well as appearing on TV and computer screens, doesn’t anyone have a straight enough spine to tell the King Richard III Society, the head they commissioned, is not good enough to represent the city of Leicester and its people?
Before seeing what you thought, and announcing the final results of my week long international survey on the matter, take another look at the photos I published last week, asking which of the two looked most lifelike.
Okay, I admit I cheated. The one on the left is the original wax head photographed in a vey favourable light. The one on the right is the same photo, but altered slightly using photoshop. I cut and pasted a pair of real eyes onto it and enchanced the cheekbones a touch to give the face a more realistic look. So let’s get on with seeing what the big world out there said.
Nil from Holland commented: “Seems I’m the first to vote – but haven’t got a clue, really…” Thanks for the valuable input Nil. Eager as they come, Ginjuh of Alabama, begged me to give her some inside information. “Now tell me they are BOTH wax. Out with it…” I had to remind her very firmly that she would have to wait for the official announcement like everybody else. No amount of arm-twisting would work, unless accompanied by financial inducements deposited in the off-shore account of one of my shell companies. But you can’t get much past Ginjuh, she saw through the ruse. Making no bones about her preference, Linda from Boise, Idaho (not Indiana), was sharp and to the point, writing, “I also prefer the portrait.” In one of those amazing coincidences that send a shiver down your spine, Wendy from Andalusia in Spain said “I sort of know somebody who looks a bit like that…” What are the odds of that? One in a quadrillion times ten, I shouldn’t wonder, give or take a couple.
And talking of numbers, though small in comparison with the odds of Wendy sort of knowing somebody who looks a bit like a tatty waxwork exhibit from a House of Horrors sideshow in a 1950s travelling fair, the international sample of voters who ventured to express their opinion was of extremely high quality and intelligence.
As the results sound much more important quoted in percentages, I’ll do that first. 47.67% of voters said the photo on the right looked more lifelike. 33.33% believed the photo on the right was of a male model. 16.67% thought the photo on the left looked more lifelike (you lot need your eyes testing), and 8.33% shouldn’t cross roads by themselves, as they thought the one on the left was the photo of a male model. Okay, okay, I own up, only a dozen of you cast your votes, but I still think the Leicester Mercury and the Mayor of Leicester should take note of your views, and a hearty, big thanks to all for taking part.
Here is a view of the final results:
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What a lovely surprise Bryan! I enjoyed hanging out with you too! In answer to your question….it is very hard indeed to make a lively human portrait head. It is always a struggle that doesn’t really ever get easy. Well maybe a bit easier – but only in some respects. I think the person who made the Richard 3 was approaching it in a very different way to wanting to make a piece of art. He was more concerned with establishing the correct anatomy, in an effort to confirm, with his knowledge of where the facial musculature attaches and the depth of them, that this was beyond doubt King Richard. He was attempting to make physical, the only known painted portrait in existence. I think this painting, due to the period and the limited skill of the painter,( being his only reference) curtailed the sense of life. The better the reference etc….
Thrilled you liked my Hockney! I was lucky the reference was good.
Love Karen x
Great to hear from you Karen. And thanks a million for your professional input, it is much appreciated.
Yes, though the post was meant to be light-hearted, I do realise the portrait head was based on the only painting believed to have been made of Richard III, and included a photo of it in my first post on the subject. But therein lies the problem.
From my own research, every image of Richard III seems to have used that painting – or copies of it – as the basis of what he must have looked like. Nevertheless, I’d have thought a 3D computer scan of the skull uncovered at the burial site, could’ve been employed. When all’s said and done, our skulls do dictate how we look to a large extent. The scan could’ve allowed a forensic scientist to produce an actual cast, which would’ve at least meant the relative proportions of all the facial details would have been scientifically correct.
I well understand how difficult it must be to create a three-dimensional image from a threequarter, two-dimensional representation, and that’s why I thought rather more ingenuity was called for in such an important historical project. That is not to say the original portrait should not have been used to refine the finished head.
Using modern forensic technology, combined with artistic interpretation, could have achieved a far better result, especially with someone possessing your skills involved. As such a project might still work, perhaps it’s something you might suggest to a TV company, or even Madam Tussauds, even both. A TV programme filming all stages of the process could prove very popular indeed. And I’m pretty sure the idea could garner quite a lot of financial support. Of course, it would be nice if you said the original idea came from me.
The David Hockney head is magical! You have managed to fill it with life, and that’s coming from someone who used to live just around the corner from his Powis Terrace studio. I saw him many times.
You certainly have honed your skills over the years, and it’s a real pleasure to see just how much.
As you may already know from my blog, I live in Andalusia now, and have done for more than twelve years. I don’t get back to the UK very often, but will probably try later this year. If I have time, I may try to contact you when I have a better idea. Maybe, we could even meet up.
Lovely! Very glad to hear this, (re Hockney) Yes love to meet up when you’re here next. I think they did exactly that ( a 3D scan and print of the skull and forensic sculptor). please send me an email address!
That was a greatly enjoyable post dear Bryan.
I find it quite amazing how technology ( Photoshop!) can gives wings to our flights of creativity. Or should we change that to fantasy?
Thanks for your observation, Shakti. David Hockney is now employing Photoshop for a good deal of his work. His latest exhibition at New Yorks’s Pace Gallery includes work using Photoshop.
Here is a Vogue review:
David Hockney on Playing With Perspective and His New Show at the Pace Gallery
Another exhibition of Hockney’s recent works is due to open at London’s Anela Juda Fine Art on May 15th 2015.
David Hockney changes perspective with move indoors for London show
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So, that proves that you are skilled with Photoshop. Maybe I’ll send some pictures of me your way and you can make me human…or a little human! What a fun little study.
BTW, It’s Idaho, not Indiana, but that’s okay. Easy mistake to make. Different parts of the country though. 😉
How stupid of me! Idaho, of course. In my head I had it geographically positioned in the right place, but then got the name wrong. I have to brush up on my states.
Fascinated by the United States as a boy, at the age of eleven I learned them all by heart, after hearing Perry Como sing the Delaware song, which mentions 15. But I didn´t know exactly where they all were. But I do know where you live from your posts, and should have remembered properly.
Thanks for correcting me!
Hey, Bryan, you have a better grasp than most Americans! It is a standing Idaho joke that when we mention where we’re from, Americans hear either “Iowa” or “Ohio”. You are, however, the first to substitute the much longer and harder to spell, Indiana. (But it does share a lot of the same letters. ;-))
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I KNEW it!!!
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