30 January 2015

The Artist as Soldier as Egon Schiele as St Sebastian

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

There is an age-old tradition of presenting St. Sebastian as a symbol of the artist himself, suffering the pangs of artistic creation; the execution of the saint is a homonym for the execution of the work of art and the death of the saint symbolizes its completion. Ever since the early Renaissance Sebastian's arrows have symbolized the painter's brushes, pointing inwards, penetrating him, conveying the idea that "every painter paints himself." 

Egon Schiele's Self Portrait as St. Sebastian from 1914-15 (the very obvious basis for my painting here) fits perfectly within my World War One painting project, having been painted around the outset of WWI. Putting myself into the painting symbolizes the completion of my 100-piece project and serves as yet another memento mori: the inscription making reference to the fact that, even in Arcadia (i.e. the safety of my studio) one day I, too, will die.

27 January 2015

Us and Them

14" x 11", oil on wood panel, 2014

Much of my WWI painting project conveys an over all theme and this painting's sentiment was essentially my conclusion about war in general, the words in the piece specifically inspired by "Us and Them" by Pink Floyd (and also a little bit by "Where Are We Now?" by David Bowie). This angry skull really wants conflict in perpetuity, but we can deny it through empathy for our fellow humans.

23 January 2015

The Devil's Harvest

17" x 14" (x24), ink on Bristol board, 2014

On 18 October 2014 at 8pm I started a 24-hour mini-marathon, painting ink portraits of 24 soldiers from Prince Edward County who were killed in World War One as part of my 100-painting project, To the Sound of Trumpets. My initial intent for the show was to do a 100-hour marathon and paint 100 portraits of local soldiers and then do a small number of larger oil paintings to coincide with the exhibitions of the five PEC museums. To get a list of potential subjects I went to the cenotaph in Picton and copied down all the names:

One of four sides listing the names.

There were over 150 names from all over PEC, listed by area, but I could only find viable photos (good enough for me to create a good likeness) of about 30. Obviously, I had to scale back the marathon and rethink the whole project. I decided I still wanted to do 100 paintings total so I relegated the marathon to only 24 hours (and 24 portrait paintings) and I would then have to paint 76 further paintings in oil (with Across This Antheap being an exception).

I guess because of my steady production of paintings during the months leading up to the marathon, I was painting at a more efficient and confident level so that, by around 2am (only 5 hours into the marathon) I was halfway done. If I continued at that rate, I would have all 24 finished by sunrise. So I took a break from the portraits but continued painting pictures for the project: I finished the 9 Memento Moris and did "Send More Men" in its entirety before resuming the portraits around 1pm or so.

As with previous ink painting marathons I've done (Burning the Midnight Oil and County 101) I streamed the event live online. You can still see the first few hours at the link below:

I painted (and later hung) the portraits in descending order of the soldiers' ages and accompanied the display with the following write-ups:

22 August 1914
Canada passes the War Measures Act in order to provide the government with new and intrusive powers to prosecute the war. These powers include censorship, the right to detain and arrest Canadians, and the right to take control over any property.

17 December 1917
The 1917 debate on conscription, mandatory military service for men, was one of the fiercest and most divisive in Canadian political history. French-Canadians, many farmers, unionized workers, non-British immigrants, as well as other Canadians, generally opposed the measure. English-speaking Canadians, British immigrants, the families of soldiers, and older Canadians supported it. The pro-conscription side won the election and it polarized provinces, ethnic and linguistic groups, communities, families, and had lasting political effects on the country as a whole.

The Canadian War Museum lists close to 61,000 Canadians killed in the war, including 1,305 from Newfoundland and 172,000 wounded. The Canadian Expeditionary Force lost 59,544 in the war, including 51,748 due to enemy action, the Royal Canadian Navy reported 150 deaths from all causes and 1,388 Canadians died while serving with the British Flying Services.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission figure for Canadian war dead is 64,990.
The report of the U.K. War Office listed 56,639 Canadian war dead, 149,732 wounded and 3,729 taken prisoner.
The Soviet demographer Boris Urlanis estimated that included in total Canadian military deaths are 53,000 killed and died of wounds.

The average age of the Canadian soldier in World War One was 26 years.

22 January 2015

Across This Antheap

11" x 17", ink (and digital) on paper (mounted), 2007/14

This piece was originally presented as an eight-page "story" in a comic book I made in 2007. Although I only ever finished one issue, I had material (sketches, story ideas, etc.) for three more. In that issue this was called "The Boys Wanna Fight" (after a song by Garbage) but after rearranging the pages to become panels, I borrowed a title from an XTC song instead. Since I was making the same overall point with my World War One painting project, I felt it appropriate to include it in this rearranged fashion, focusing on the WWI page.

The cover of the one and only completed issue.

21 January 2015

Gas Attack

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

Too gruesome to recount, you can read this synopsis of chemical warfare to get an idea of just how horrific this new weapon was.

This excerpt from Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est" (which I had excerpted the ending for use in the exhibition of my World War One painting project) conveys the nastiness better than my painting:
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

And here's an interesting story about Fritz Haber, and the incredibly ironic path that led to the chemical warfare of WWI.

20 January 2015

Lie Beside the Dead

14" x 11", oil on wood panel, 2014

This painting was inspired by this quote by a soldier near Verdun:

“You ate beside the dead. You drank beside the dead. You relieved yourself beside the dead. You slept beside the dead.”

Originally, I was going to inscribe "LIE BESIDE ME" on what eventually became Mud Mud Mud but that painting worked better as a companion to Blood Blood Blood, so I used my own hand as a model and combined it with a muddy, puddle-ridden field and a line of barbed wire for this painting.

This was painted towards the end of my WWI painting project, and it shows signs of a looseness in technique (that can also be seen in The Kindest Cut) which I quite enjoyed and would have explored further had I many more paintings to finish. As it stands, that looseness I learned will have to be explored in my next non-war-related bunch of paintings I have in mind for 2015 (and beyond).

19 January 2015


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

I deliberately kept the soldiers' faces in shadow here to help convey the sombre mood of the trenches and also to make these specific soldiers represent all the soldiers who faced these conditions.

This is in the "Calamity" section of my WWI painting project.

17 January 2015

Troubles on Top of Troubles

11" x 14", oil on wood panel, 2014, private collection

It must have been extremely frustrating to go to Europe to fight an enemy you had no personal quarrel with and find yourself obstructed at almost every turn before you even get to fight. Here a truck is stuck in the mud, the heavy munitions temporarily removed to lighten the vehicle.

This is in the "Calamity" section of my WWI painting project, but at least it's a calamity of a non-lethal variety.


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

Another painting from my WWI art project based on a rare photo seen in the armoury archives in Belleville, ON, which makes it very likely* that the captured soldier is Canadian.

*but still hard to tell even looking very closely at the photo

16 January 2015

Effective Range: 50 Yards

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

In one of the many documentaries I researched for my WWI painting project, I was quite taken by a WWI veteran's statement that the effective range for any dogfight was 50 yards, enabling you to actually see your enemy's face. It was a revelation to me that aerial combat was almost as hands-on as, and often fought at smaller distances than, ground combat.

15 January 2015

The Empty Schoolhouse

16" x 20", oil on canvas, 2014

Here I wanted to show that, with so many men off fighting the war, there was a noticeable lack of them back home. Realistically, there would be some very young boys still in school, but I thought a classroom with only girls would be more haunting.

I mentioned earlier that my War At Home section of my WWI painting project wasn't as filled out as I would have liked –there are some interesting stories and paintings, but I think a few more conceptual pieces like this would have made me more satisfied.

I shot reference for this while painting at Ameliasburgh Historical Museum in Prince Edward County back in August. You can see the schoolhouse in the second photo (it's the building on the far left of the frame). I used a young volunteer who was in period-appropriate costume to model as the teacher and all of the girls which I then compiled in Photoshop for my final reference.

14 January 2015

Women's Work (x2)

Working Even Harder Now
16" x 20", oil on wood panel, 2014
private collection

And the Women Went Also
20" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014

With these two paintings I wanted to show some of the involvement of women during World War One. In the first one, women are working in a factory, which, in many cases, was in addition to working at home as mothers and/or on farms; the second one shows a group of nurses in front of a building in Belleville, ON, before shipping off overseas. If my WWI painting project was a little bigger (i.e. more than 100 paintings) and my deadline (11 November 2014) later, I would have explored this subject matter further as I feel I didn't go deeply enough with this in my War At Home section.

10 January 2015

Mud & Blood

Blood Blood Blood
14" x 11", oil on wood panel, 2014

Mud Mud Mud
14" x 11", oil on wood panel, 2014

These two paintings are further examples of my willingness to push past "safe" paintings in my WWI project and tackle some more disturbing subjects and imagery.

The sentences written across these paintings are derived from David Bowie's "How Does the Grass Grow" from his album The Next Day, but the chorus of that song is inspired by an actual chant used in military drills by many armies, usually in bayonet training.

Here's an example from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987):