Showing posts from 2014

War Progression

War Progression #1–4
After finding a great photo of a soldier walking down a road, completely loaded with gear, my brain started developing a loose narrative for him and his experience during the war. When I say "my brain" I'm referring to my subconscious collating a lot of the research I'd been ingesting and presenting me with ideas I still don't have a complete understanding of.

Is this one soldier's progression during the war? Is it a physical or psychological progression? Both? Does it represent soldiers in a broader sense? Is it the progression of the war itself? All wars? Is it my own psychological progress while spending nine months on this WWI painting project? These paintings could represent all of those, and any "interpretations" I offer would only be retroactive; as much as I "planned" the compositions, colours, and techniques used in them, they weren't as consciously planned out, metaphorically or symbolically, as, say the…


12" x 24", oil on wood panel, 2014

I deliberately borrowed/stole from the styles of other painters for a small handful of pieces in my WWI painting project, but I think I could have done just a wee bit more of it, if only to get myself painting differently and eventually incorporating what I've learned into my own "style," whatever that may be.

When it finally came time to depicting one of the more horrific weapons used in this war I felt it would be an unusual and maybe unsettling juxtaposition to paint it in bright, cheerful colours. I could have gone in any one of a hundred directions, but the fauvist colour palette of Henri Matisse came to mind almost immediately, so I had a good look and proceeded to borrow heavily from him. I'm happy with the results, especially with the blue cloud of smoke, but I would like to explore working in his style a bit more...

Armistice Day, Toronto 1918

16" x 16", oil on masonite panel, 2014

I wanted to include at least one painting of actual joy in my 100-painting project inspired by World War One and, when I saw this picture of a young girl celebrating Armistice Day in Toronto, I couldn't resist. I colourized the flags to add some cheer to the picture but I kept the rest monochromatic for that patina of history.

This was the very last painting I did for To the Sound of Trumpets (in the Remembrance section) and it was finished (and still wet) about four hours before I hung the entire show on November 10 (the show opened the next day).

"Send More Men"

"Send More Men" 16" x 12", oil on wood panel, 2014
During the exhibition of my WWI painting project at Macaulay Church, these two were hung in the middle of the same panel as the Wounded mini series, the subversion of a propaganda poster in the painting above serving as a macabre punchline of sorts.

When I was doing The Devil's Harvest section (as a 24-hour painting marathon of PEC soldier portraits), I found myself painting way ahead of schedule (I'd planned to complete one portrait per hour, on average), so to keep occupied and still have something to show viewers (the event was streamed live online) I started and completed the painting above.

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014
“…Each man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
John Donne

More Wounded

Wounded 3 16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection
Wounded 4 16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014
Wounded 2
16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014
I felt painting one wounded soldier being carried on a stretcher (Wounded 1) wasn't enough, and I had a lot of room (100 paintings) for some pointed repetition, like verses in a song.

During the exhibition I included many quotes dispersed among the paintings. Below is one of the quotes on the panel on which these were hung:

“For the first time the British army lost its spirit of optimism, and there was a sense of deadly depression among many officers and men with whom I came in touch. They saw no ending of the war, and nothing except the continuous slaughter such as that in Flanders.”
British war correspondent

At What Cost Peace?

20" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014

Many of the paintings from To the Sound of Trumpets, my WWI-inspired art project, work better when viewed with the rest of the pieces than when taken out of context. By itself, this (and others) may seem a little heavy-handed, but I think it's a key piece in the Remembrance section.

The main inspiration for this painting came from a scene in Alejandro Jodorowsky's extremely surreal Holy Mountain where little, blue birds flew out of a small hole in the chest of a man who was recently killed. After seeing image after image of peace doves and hands holding doves, I subverted a painting by Nancy Howe and added the visceral connection to the soldier to indicate that peace may be the goal, an ideal, but it comes at a price.

The working title for this was Peace Extraction, but I opted for the longer, Star-Trek-third-season-era-like title because it's a little more narrative, but I still like Peace Extraction.

Seizing the Day (x2)

Nunc est bibendum 14" x 11", oil on wood panel, 2014
The titles of these two translate from the Latin as, respectively, "now is the time to drink" and "now is the time to dance footloose upon the earth," both phrases intended to convey the same sentiment as carpe diem, or "seize the day."

With these paintings I wanted to show moments (like with R&R) when the soldiers took some time away from the harsh reality of war and made the most of those rare opportunities.

Nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus 20" x 16", oil on wood panel, 2014
The top painting is based on a moment in a documentary I found quite moving, one soldier helping a wounded one have a bit of a drink, combined with an image of barbed wire from elsewhere. The bottom painting is based on a photo I found in the Belleville Armoury and I was so taken by the sheer joy of the men in it that I had to include it in my WWI painting project. I don't know if they knew exactly what …

R & R

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014

I wanted to have a truthful but diverse representation of what the soldiers experienced during World War One. Even with 100 paintings I knew I couldn't be truly comprehensive, but I did manage to show some non-horrific, non-combative aspects in a few.

One thing that struck me during my research was the very strong bond many soldiers made with each other, despite differences in class, education, wealth, etc., and that these bonds were often maintained after the war among the survivors, these comrades being the only people who could understand the experience.

So I wanted to illustrate a moment or two of levity, or at least a break in the terrible fighting where they were able to take their minds off of it for a while.

This Silent Countryside

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection

Taken out of context, apart from the main body of work that makes up To the Sound of Trumpets, my World War One-inspired painting project, this is simply a nice winter landscape –a silent countryside, as the title would have it. And that's all you'd get unless you saw the exhibition in the church museum at Macaulay Heritage Park from November 11–30 this year (or read this here blog post) and read the accompanying quote from an onlooker in Europe in winter 1917:

"There was something suggestive of tragic drama in this silent countryside where millions of men were waiting to kill each other."

My intent was that if you now look at the painting again you'll see it differently, maybe with a sense of foreboding, doom, or even tragic drama.

Memento Mori x9

Memento Mori #1 through #9 8" x 8" oil on canvas, 2014
During my research for my World War One painting project, I kept coming across many quotes from soldiers, sentiments in books, poems, songs, etc., saying in one way or another that nobody ever wins a war (it's even the title of the collection of diaries by Prince Edward County's own Ella Mae Bongard). Growing up in the 80s with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (via the USA & the USSR, the two nuclear superpowers) hanging over our heads, this notion has been on my mind for most of my life, so I knew I had to address this in my project somehow.

I also wanted to include a memento mori to reinforce the real reason for Remembrance Day. Combining these two concepts via a tic-tac-toe board ending in stalemate seemed like a handy solution (and a handy way to do 9 paintings rather quickly). I ended up doing a few more paintings that are literal memento mori and some that can be interpreted as such. Of course…

Dance Partners 6 through 9

Dance Partners 06 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
Dance Partners 07 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
Dance Partners 08 work in progress
Dance Partners 08 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
Dance Partners 09 work in progress
Dance Partners 09 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014, private collection
These are the last remaining paintings in the Dance Partners section of my World War One-inspired painting project, To the Sound of Trumpets.
See also Dance Partners #1 for more contextual info, then have a look at Dance Partners 2 through 5 to see the rest.

Dance Partners 2 through 5

Dance Partners 02 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014, private collection
Dance Partners 03 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
Dance Partners 04 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
Dance Partners 05 20" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
I had initially planned to do ten paintings of shoes (to represent the beginning of World War One) to make it a nice round number, but deleted one (and re-used the canvas to paint "Why Are We Here?") because I then thought hanging nine in a square would look nice (coincidentally, the one I chose to delete is the one in the middle covered up by #7). Then I realized the display panels I'd borrowed wouldn't fit a square of nine 20" x 20" paintings, so I ended up displaying them horizontally:
Dance Partners during the exhibition.
 Below are the initial ten paintings prepped and ready to go. You can see Number 1 here, and 6 through 9 here.


Monkey Gun
20" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
Like Bang Bang (and, indeed, these paintings are displayed alongside that one in the current exhibit of my WWI painting project) I wanted to emphasize the youth of the soldiers who went off to fight in World War One (the average age of the Canadian soldiers was 26 years old). Unlike Bang Bang I haven't included any young boys, but rather the toys they gave up when they took up arms to fight.

I know that's an ape, but Ape Gun is nowhere near as good a title.
The bullets are years.

Hockey Gun
16" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014
The pucks and bullets encode a common Morse phrase.

Toys 3
20" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
This one doesn't get a cute title or layered symbolism because its subject matter didn't suggest either.

The Kindest Cut

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014

Considering the subject matter, my 100-painting project inspired by the beginning of World War One doesn't have very many paintings with blood in them. In fact, blood appears in only 5% or the paintings in an obvious manner (but may appear in a few of the monochromatic ones and also blood may be inferred in a couple others). My intent was to limit the usage and make the red and make the impact of it stronger and more visceral.

I've used song lyrics (from trench songs and modern pop songs) as inspiration/titles/etc. in many of my paintings (from this project and elsewhere), but the title of this one came to me subconsciously. "The kindest cut" is a fairly common phrase, but, sure enough, my brain picked it up from "All of My Heart" by ABC, which sounds sweet and romantic, musically, but is in fact quite bitter and desperate, lyrically. Appropriate.

The War at Home

The Lady Irwin, Defiant 18" x 24", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection
Quaker Barn Burning
16" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014

The Quakers have had a strong presence in Prince Edward County since the late 1700s, building communities throughout the county and prospering. By the time World War One came around, their status as peaceful conscientious objectors who refused to fight in the war became well known, but not gladly accepted by everyone, namely the Ku Klux Klan who, believe it or not, had a faction in PEC and Quinte area. Before the KKK were outed as the horrific bigots they really were and eventually driven out, they were simply seen as just another Christian group (their white robes and hoods are, in fact, based on Catholic ceremonial outfits).

According to one report, the KKK had already burned down at least one Quaker barn out of anger at the Quakers not wanting to fight in the war, and they were on their way to destroy another barn in Ameliasburgh when …

The Tyranny of Distance

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014

I knew when I painted Writing Between the Fighting that it would need a companion painting to go in my War at Home section of my WWI painting project. I constructed this scene from a few different elements including the young woman who was volunteering at Ameliasburgh Historical Museum and the main setting which is from a photo I took while painting at Rose House Museum.

The title powerfully conveys the heartbreak of being very far away from home and loved ones. I thought I was borrowing it from a line from Six Months in a Leaky Boat by Split Enz, but I discovered that they got the line from a book with that title by Geoffrey Blainey (the subject of the song being the same as the book).

Snow March

16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection

Part of my goal for my World War One painting project was to try to convey how difficult this war was even when you set aside the fighting and the advanced weaponry which nobody had experienced before. This was not the glorious adventure overseas the propaganda posters promised.

The Poison Bakery

18" x 24", oil on wood panel, 2014

Back in the deep freeze towards the end of last winter, I was at the archives in Wellington, poring through microfilm of the Picton Gazette from 1914 and 1915, looking for letters from the front, or old ads, or anything else that could give me ideas for paintings for my War at Home section of my WWI painting project. By sheer happenstance I saw these two letters to the editor out of the corner of my eye:

Letters to the Editor, Picton Gazette,
14 September 1914

Mr. Editor: it appears that evil-minded persons have circulated reports to the effect that, being in sympathy with the Germans in the European war, that it was unsafe for the public to use bread and provisions sold by me for fear of it being poisoned.
I am surely at a loss to know what the objects of such statements could be.
I can scarcely imagine that persons in the same business would be unscrupulous enough to fabricate such vile slander to build up their business on the ruins of m…