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Alan Turing at age 16

I’ve been interested in Alan Turing ever since I first encountered his work in Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book I read obsessively in my teenage years, so the moment I heard there would be a movie about him I started lobbying Joy to see it with me (we don’t go to the movies very often). It didn’t hurt that Turing would be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is starting to impress me as one of the best actors of my lifetime, and sure enough, we saw The Imitation Game last week and his performance is humane, subtle, and heartbreaking. It does him a disservice to suggest that the role of Turing is an easy jump from his Sherlock Holmes. Sure, they’re both geniuses drawn to socially-useful work yet painfully lacking in social skills (the writers hint that a modern-day diagnosis would place them both on the autistic spectrum), but Cumberbatch, who must have been aware of the trap as he prepared for this role, never mixes them up. His Turing is his own person.

At the time Douglas Hofstadter wrote Gödel. . ., the story of the breaking of the Enigma code was still classified. We now know that Turing was not just a brilliant mathematician, originator of computer science, and pioneer of the concept of artificial intelligence, but also a behind-the-scenes hero of World War II, and it was no doubt the fact that the Bletchley Park codebreakers knocked probable years off the war and saved millions of lives that got Turing pardoned, over the heads of the House of Lords, by Queen Elizabeth. Of course “pardon” is a legal term; what he really deserved was an apology, as he had done nothing wrong: he was just a gay man at a time when his government regarded acts of love between people of the same sex as “gross indecency.” What the rest of the world lost by Turing’s being forced to choose among prison, a mind stunted by chemical castration, or the option he took, suicide, we can only imagine. Or, given the astounding originality of his thought, it would be more accurate to say that we simply can’t imagine it.

That loss, the misery he suffered, and the knowledge that it’s no easier to be gay today in most countries than it was for Turing in 1952, left me feeling shaky as the theater lights went up. So did the information that over 49,000 people (all men, from what I’ve read) were prosecuted in the UK before the “gross indecency” statute was terminated. Turing’s pardon was won because of a petition launched on the internet and his accomplishments, but he’s just one of the victims of this stupid law, and the argument made against the pardon that “these acts were illegal at the time” just adds insult to the injury against them all. Of course they were illegal–but some laws are nothing more than the enshrinement of injustice, and the least we can do, after repealing them, is to apologize to everyone they’ve harmed.

So I was very pleased to learn that Cumberbatch has thrown all of his Oscar-nominee influence into getting an official pardon for everyone convicted under those laws; Stephen Fry has enthusiastically joined him. You can add your name to these more famous ones, as I did, at the petition site.



These six, the last from my great sweeping-up of all the accumulated drawings from several months, have something in common. In all of them, I was trying to use mostly the shadows and darkest places, rather than lines, to indicate shape as well as the fall of light. It works well. For example, I think the most successful bit of this one is the shadows defining her right hand.

141201c 7min

This next one too. (Same person, left hand.)

141201d 10min

Same day, therefore same person modeling, in this next one. I was just really taken with what was emerging when I looked for the shadows and reduced a lot of grays to black and white.

141201e 10minThe last three are also all of one model, and from one day. The approach was quite different than in the above three, but had a similar narrowing of the range of shades. Not too many grays. Black, or white. Lines and the edges of shadows show the contours of muscles more than they do the outlines of the body against the background.

150105c 7minIn this next one, I used hardly any outlines at all. It gives a very different feeling about the relationship of the man and his environment.

150105d 10minAs sketchy as the face is in the last one, it’s still a rather good likeness, which goes to show . . . something. Amazing how little it takes to make a recognizable portrait.

150105f 20minAs I often do when I draw, I feel very moved looking at these drawings, at how vulnerable people are, and how beautiful.

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