Tuesday 25 October 2016

What lies beneath... Woman Writing

Oil on canvas, courtesy of Anthea Rocker

Niall MacMonagle

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

Fermin Rocker's Woman Writing
Fermin Rocker's Woman Writing

Right now 4,362 souls are marking Leaving and Junior Cert exam scripts all over Ireland. First, they had to head to Athlone, attend day-long marking conferences, then schlep it home with a boot-full of scripts and then evaluate hundreds and hundreds of answers. Why do they do it? Maybe to enhance their teaching skills? Maybe for the money? How they do it? That is the question.

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For every bright, original answer there are many, too many mediocre ones. That is simply the way of the world. But it must be done and it gets done.

Somewhere in a back bedroom on the Listowel to Ballybunion road, or in a dining room in Dundalk, people are bracing themselves to mark, mark, mark and meet their next deadline: so many scripts by such a date; so many As Bs and Cs so that the bell-shaped "curve" is maintained.

Of course no one admits that such a system exists, yet some suspect that the curve comes first, that marking schemes are modified to fit it. It could put you astray in the head.

Could the woman in Fermin Rocker's painting be marking the Leaving Cert? There are no piles of paper and it's too calm, too restful an image of a woman at work for that frenzied activity.

But it is definitely a woman at work. In this interior scene all is calm and all is bright yet the straight-back chair and the pose would suggest that the seated figure is intent on her task. It has a gentle, old-fashioned atmosphere.

Soft brush strokes and pastel colours create a shimmery, summery effect. If she is marking an essay on Othello let's hope she's reading a brilliant answer.

Fermin Rocker was born in 1907 in East London of German, Ukranian anarchist parents. He moved to New York in 1929, returned to England in 1972 and died two months before his ninety-seventh birthday.

His subject matter included cityscapes, restaurants, barber shops, libraries, theatres, trains and though named Fermin in honour of a Spanish anarchist, Rocker's paintings were rarely political. Mick Jagger did buy one such work: a Rocker painting of Basque refugees fleeing Franco's Spain. For the rock star, Rocker obviously rocked.

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