Essaouira series (2)

I am still having a good time, keeping Essaouira in mind, with the help of a friend who is taking reference photos (complete with masks on some people) and dipping into my old ones as well. Here are three more images, each in acrylic (ink, flow and heavy). My addiction to detail means that these paintings become illustrations of Essaouria life but I am happy with that. I could almost step back into the page.

African Masks

What is on offer for tourists to buy in Essaouira is, of course, mostly Moroccan-made. There is gorgeous painted pottery, leather goods (not for vegans) including slippers in every colour you can think of, the more humdrum but very useful tagine pots with an iron rim, cactus silk (rayon) scarves and blankets and wonderful silver jewellery.

Of course people come from sub-Saharan Africa to make a living, in the same way that I might, though I would sell my knowledge as a translator or a software developer, in “digital nomad” style. You can buy baskets woven from recycled plastic (bright and waterproof!), pictures made with feathers, amazing mudcloth fabric. And these wooden masks, looking so reminiscent of the kind you might see in a museum. I think they are made for export (I hope they are).

I took a photo of several of these arranged on an Essaouira-blue set of steps. The idea was to make a more dramatic image, lead by feeling, rather than detail, so I started off with a rich orange background. I made some of the empty eyes blue (was I thinking of Dune and spice-addicted blue in blue eyes?). Of course, I got fascinated by the weathering in the wood and the different markings on each face. Plus the very European vampire with the non-traditional lump of something on his forehead. I must buy one of these next time I go. I tried to limit my palette, as you can see.

Master Potter

Back in 2019, I was taken on a trip, organised by Berberlands, to the city of Safi, among other things to see the very best of Moroccan potters at work and to drool over their art. This is a very different experience from browsing the shops in Essaouira. I don’t think pottery is even made there (but incredible marquetry is). So this man, Ziwani Jilali, is a master potter, he’s in his 70s or eighties and has run pottery courses in Italy, he’s famous. We toured his studios and storage spaces and saw a huge set of tableware on it’s way to a branch of the Saudi royal family. No photos allowed of that, of course. The workshop area covered quite a bit of the side of a hill, including at least one brick built kiln and a more modern electric one. I loved the big trough of muddy, slippy red clay, kept wet for use. There is a bowl of it ready on this workbench. We watched as he pulled a perfect vase shape out of the clay. What he is doing here, is making a lid for this pot. when he sliced it off the top of the mound, I can’t remember how but I know if fit perfectly.

On the left is a selection of pieces in his shop. I loved them all the more because of the subtlety of the glaze. Each hue was as variable as watercolour and you could lose yourself in the patterns. I came away with two pieces, wrapped in an Arabic newspaper and they are two of my treasures.

Herb Sellers

I completed this painting yesterday (my 30th Wedding Anniversary, 16 February 2021). As you can see from the facemasks, the source photo is not mine but was taken by a friend and used with his permission. I know exactly where these ladies sit, under the arches that lead into the produce area of the Essaouira souk. I love markets (this must be obvious). I am afraid I have not yet asked what these herbs are for but I am fairly sure they number such esoteric items as thyme and rosemary. I know what to do with those! I enjoyed trying to do justice to the differing textures and play of light on the stone medina walls and the piles of herbs. I am equally fascinated by the graphics and writing on the boxes they use. Of course, like anyone else would,, much of their wares are kept in the Souiri recyclable woven bags. Which resolve into shapeless lumps. This is real life, hey, not always “picturesque”. I did not resist the temptation to dress the left hand lady up in what would be a more summery choice of fabric, rather than the all-over blue djellaba and scarf. I can’t help it.

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