Courtroom sketches of Julian Assange

cd0.jpg English judges are less inclined to allow cameras, recording devices and other newfangled distractions into courtrooms than their American counterparts. This point was highlighted in recent days by Justice Ousley's unprecedented decision to temporarily allow reporters to hammer away on Twitter as Julian Assange's bail case was heard.
But at no point did he let photographers into the courtroom, leaving the work of producing visual reportage to sketch artists. Working under enormous pressure to produce professional results quickly, courtroom artists are the field surgeons of the art world, able to work miracles in bare minutes. And yet the results are often, it must be said ... odd. So far three such sketches of Mr. Assange are extant. cd3.jpg Elizabeth Cook's Assange is perhaps the best-drawn of the set, though, curiously, also the most unconvincing. But it also the one offering the most psychological depth: Cook's Assange is melancholy, his shoulders heavy, represented behind bars and flanked by police. The composition, which echoes Bacon's screaming popes, has the Wikileaks founder gazing morosely off into the distance as the judge addresses him. Or he at least appears to be, as Cook has drawn Assange wall-eyed. cd2.jpg Betrayed by the artist's inner compulsion to master the nature he or she should accept as master, the BBC's Assange is more ruggedly handsome than the real one. This is Captain Assange of the Starship Wikileaks. This is how future generations will idealize the distant memory of Lord Protector Alan Sugar. The composition would be improved by having him grasping a bar with one hand, and perhaps thumping the dock with the other. cd1.jpg This Assange is an anime supervillain. Seen any other dubious courtroom sketches?


  1. What, they wrestled him to the ground? Engaged in a slap-fight? Do they struggle with aspects of his personality? Or is this more of an inner conflict?

  2. Court artists are not allowed to draw whilst in the courtroom, they have to watch, remember, dash outside and draw from memory, go back in ad infinitim.

    1. Wait, so you edit the headline thus leaving me hung out to dry? This is more embarrassing than my Magritte/Duchamp faux-pas. This is NOT a cup of fur!

      1. And now I’m here, trying to figure out what it was

        In Australia we too make use of courtroom artists as cameras are not allowed inside. It also makes the scene outside the courtroom afterward much more interesting with one disgruntled party shouting about injustice or speeding away in a waiting car.

        Could this be the start of the politically-charged “Draw Assange day”?

  3. No cameras in the courtroom here in Canada either. I like that, courtroom sketches are a special art form, I love them.

  4. Note in the last one how the “surprised man” in the green tie is the real focal point of the composition. He has just realized that Assange is in fact the evil Galactor from Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman.

    1. The third image may be the most “cartoony”, but captures Assange’s features the best. Although I am impressed with the composition of the first drawing, she got Assange’s chin, high forehead, and prominent brow and cheekbones quite wrong, making him overall much more feminine. The third drawing got the jist of his details right, but the first is a lot more evocative. However, since there’s no physical images of the hearing, we don’t know if the first artist embellished the drama of the scene for an evocative effect.

      And Assange IS in fact Berg Katse of Gatchaman’s Galactor organization, that could complicate the rape charges a bit as he is a hermaphrodite.

  5. Since apparently sketch artists aren’t allowed to sketch in court (they make notes and do it later) I wonder why they don’t just do a photomontage in a reasonably priced graphics manipulation package.

  6. I think because #3 hits just the right amount of off-kilter, cartoonishness, it perfectly captures Assange’s unique features and distinctive expression without aiming for too much realism.

    #1 and #2 are good drawings, but they don’t look like Assange. They could be anybody . . . if I didn’t see them in this article, I’d have no idea who I was supposed to be looking at.

    For those of us that draw, that’s one of the hardest things about drawing human subjects . . . each person is so unique in ways that are so subtle they can not be expressed verbally . . . it’s not too difficult to draw a realistic human face, but it is very hard to have that same face’s identity to be unmistakable as the subject in question. In many was it is easier to go for the cartoon / charicature look instead.

  7. perhaps it’s difficult to capture his smugness with pastels.

    Also, in the UK I think they can’t sketch in the courtroom.

    1. Just another example of a brother getting beaten down by the man.

      “Of course, you know, THIS means WAR!”
      B. Bunny

  8. Court room artists in the UK aren’t even allowed to sketch within the court room. They have to memorise the scene and the faces and then draw it outside. It’s amazing that they get it as close as they do!

    1. That’s really good to know! I wonder why they bother with the drawings at all, then.

      (Still, it doesn’t excuse all the crappy US and Canadian courtroom sketches, though ;P)

  9. Seen any other dubious courtroom sketches?

    Of Assange, or you mean in general?? Because it seems 90% of courtroom drawings are done by people who can’t capture likeness at all, which is strange. You’d think likeness would be the very point. Who needs a rough sketch of generic people standing/looking around in a courtroom? You might as well just describe it in words.

    But yeah, #3 is closest to the mark. The first one looks like Bill Maher drawn by a 12 year-old who’s pretty good at drawing. The second one is some guy sitting behind some bars (the smiling half-sun in the upper corner of the page is mysteriously missing)…

  10. Assange has a weird face. It’s hard to figure out how his features work together. Some times he looks like Bill Maher. #3 I think captures the features that stand out, more like a caricature, although I don’t think his lips are that heavy. I wonder how and why people become courtroom artists.

    I know some people who can capture an amazing likeness… but they all work in more typical art related fields.

    As far as composition #3 is my favorite for the rejection of perspective, and the claustrophobic spacial relationships.

  11. I think #3 works best because its more of a caricature which super excites your face recognition brain hardware (the fusiform face area).

  12. That is really inspiring. I like the idea of “Draw Assange day”…and talking about polically-charged, sometime I look at the preminister of my country Iceland and wonder…is she Julian Assagne or is he Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir:-)
    Here is a picture of Assagne and Jóhanna

  13. Fortunately in Canada we sketch artists are allowed to draw in the courtroom, although sometimes we don’t get a lot of time. And then there’s the jockeying for position. First appearance are the most fun with maybe only a minute or less sometimes to do the initial sketch.

  14. They don’t really keep defendants behind bars in UK criminal courtrooms, do they? Talk about inflicting bias on a jury….

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