Friday, February 19, 2021

The Pianist

The book, “The Pianist”  has been on my Goodreads wanting to read list for about a year. I finally got around to reading this phenomenal story of the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman who worked for Polish Radio amid the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent Nazi invasion of Poland. Wladyslaw was Jewish, so eventually, he, like millions of other Jews, was robbed of everything, and found himself living in the Warsaw ghetto in overcrowded, insanitary, and brutal conditions bestowed upon them by the Nazis. Children and adults starved, were beaten, ridiculed, eventually died of disease, and any combination of the former. Many Jews were shot at random, just on the whim of a brutal guard.  Wladyslaw witnessed the roundups, wailing mothers and children as they were separated and loaded onto boxcars for deportation to forced labor camps, and for many, extermination. Some of the scenes he describes will stay with me forever. I won’t say more except that I truly recommend Szpilman’s book, and I should let him tell his own story. Suffice to say, he tells a tale of fortitude, and bravery amid the daily ridiculous decrees, indiscriminate brutality, death, destruction, and cruelty that only those who suffered it can describe. The book was made into a movie also called “The Pianist”, by Roman Polanski and is outstanding. 

My portrait of Wladyslaw Szpilman is my personal tribute to him. In the links, I’ll post a video of  him in his winter years playing Nocturne No. 20 in C minor by Chopin. It was what he was playing at the Polish Radio Station when it finally went off the air during the occupation. Now more about the drawing before I add spoilers. 

I was in two minds about how to draw him. Should I draw him in his later years, or his younger years? I decided both, but for now, I will stay with him in his younger years since that’s how I learned about him and that’s the time of his life that form the basis of the book and movie. 

I found a photo on Wikipedia. As you can see from the reference photo, he was very handsome! There was only one catch; the photo had him posing with a hand up by his face. I have never drawn hands and wondered if I should try and improvise and just not bother with his hand? I decided to keep the hand up by his face because the hand of course was instrumental and key to how he lived... No apologies for bad intentional puns. It seemed to me appropriate to keep him in this charming pose.

I got caught up in wanting to do this drawing so well that I forgot some basic things about facial proportions despite using my proportional divider - a device used to get scale up or down from another surface. Proportional dividers are also used in drafting. On the whole, I’m moderately pleased with my portrait of Wladyslaw, but will spend more times on the proportions next time. I got the eyes almost at right height, but they aren’t quite the same size as each other and are a little too far apart. One thing I did try was a white acrylic pen for the reflection of the camera flash in his eyes which worked quite nicely. I used ink for the bowtie, and black color prismacolor pencil for the darker pieces of hair not highlighted by the flash... 

I look forward to the day when I can truly capture the eye twinkles and smiles of my favorite people... Meanwhile, they are joining me on my journey as I remember them and their stories that become my drawing stories.  Under the second photo, there are links to the book on Amazon and a YouTube video of Szpilman playing the Chopin piece mentioned in the book.

In memory of Wladyslow Szpilman 1911-2000

Wladyslaw Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman


Reference photo used: 

Reference Photo - Wiki

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