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Showing posts from January, 2015

The Artist as Soldier as Egon Schiele as St Sebastian

Image
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.




Us and Them

Image
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.



The Devil's Harvest

Image
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 ha…

Across This Antheap

Image
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.


Gas Attack

Image
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.



Lie Beside the Dead

Image
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).


Entrenched

Image
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.



Troubles on Top of Troubles

Image
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.



Captured!

Image
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


Effective Range: 50 Yards

Image
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.



The Empty Schoolhouse

Image
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.



Women's Work (x2)

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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.




Mud & Blood

Image
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):