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Gideon Summerfield Headshot

Drawing Inspiration

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Faced with 10 weeks of summer holiday I had a plan. Sleep, eat, play Xbox, see friends and sleep a bit more. Then my Dad interfered with my plan...how about you sleep, eat, play Fifa... and do something else, he said.

I wanted to say no but he then impressed on me an idea he was keen on and which I felt rather reluctant about. He wanted me to use my drawing skills and to meet survivors of the Holocaust.

The rationale being that the survivors were in their twilight years - they were aged in their late eighties and early nineties - so now was a good time, possibly, the only time, to get to meet them and hear their life stories.

The summer sun shone and people chilled in the park eating ice-cream. I knew where I'd rather be, but I found myself attending an art class held at the Holocaust Survivors Centre in North West London. Art classes and art therapy are a regular part of the busy schedule at the centre.

Weeks passed and I found myself visiting the homes of the survivors. I sat in their gardens, in their kitchens and in their front rooms. I met their husbands. I met their wives. I looked at their faces and I began to draw.

As I drew, some of the survivors would chat. Others would talk. They would talk about what happened to them when they were children. When they were separated from their parents. When they found themselves in concentration camps. When their parents were murdered.

Within days I found myself overwhelmed with the enormity of the experience. Meeting extraordinary people who had led extraordinary lives. I am not embarrassed to admit that I often found myself crying when they were crying. Some of the survivors told me a lot and in detail; detail that was difficult to handle. Other survivors did not want to talk so much and if they did they could not talk about their time during the war. They preferred to talk about their family, their children and grandchildren.

Ten portraits were completed. In most of the drawings the survivors are holding something precious to them. Usually it's a photograph of parents or a family member who perished in the Holocaust.

The summer came to an end. The 10 weeks had disappeared and not as many Fifa matches had been completed.

I was now a student, starting a degree course in Illustration at Cardiff School of Art and Design.

A few weeks into the student term I received an unexpected phone call. One of the Survivors, Harry, had died.

I travelled back to London to attend the funeral and met up with Harry's friends - the other survivors. And it would be fair to say, they have become my friends too.

It has been an enormous privilege to meet and draw Harry, Alicia, Freddie, Renie, Sigi, Moshe, Zdenka, Eva, Zahava and Avram.

When I started this project, I thought it would be about meeting and then drawing 10 survivors. However, I realise now that the project has become a unique and meaningful relationship that I have with each of them and the portraits are a bonus!

Young artist Gideon Summerfield and representatives from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust are judging the first ever online art competition for Holocaust Memorial Day, inviting people to explore the 2014 theme of Journeys through creating an original drawing, painting or a piece of digital art.

The winning artworks will be shown at an exhibition in London and at the Holocaust Memorial Day UK event on 27 January 2014.

For more information visit drawinginspiration.hmd.org.uk and www.gideonsummerfield.com

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