Monday, 15 August 2011

Over The Top

Between 1914 and 1918 my grandmother collected every copy of the Bystander magazine for the humorous cartoons by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, a serving officer in the trenches of the First World War.
I still have them.
They were my first experience of comic illustration, and I believe they were in no small part responsible for me wanting to make pictures for a living.

However, there is also a dark side to them.

Humour and tragedy are close companions, and the idea of this chap being appointed as the official cartoonist to the British, and later American armies struck me as both brilliant and appalling.

How could you look for gags in a situation that was killing 3000 men a week?

Somehow he did, all in the name of keeping up morale.

Hats off all round, I say...

For as long as I can remember the whole story of The Great War has held a ghastly fascination for me, to the point where I wonder if it's all getting a touch obsessive and unhealthy.

For almost as long I've wanted to create something as what? - a tribute, memorial, personal show of respect, atonement?

Apart from a couple of exceptions, paintings of the subject just don't seem to work, maybe because photography has already produced so many iconic images.

Poetry is forever connected to the war poets themselves, and formal statues are so, well, static.

About four years ago I started on a lifesized figure made of barbed wire.

It began with a wooden skeleton  fleshed out with newspaper and tape to get the proportions and stance right.

This is then wrapped with the barbed wire, held together by clips where the wires cross.

It's taken this long partly because it's so damned painful to work on.
The wire snakes around and catches on everything, the clips wreck your fingers and just moving him results in bloodshed.
In a small way it seems appropriate.

When he is finished I shall burn him to get rid of the mannequin, and after that he's going on a journey.
Sometimes the only way to deal with a compulsion is to let it have it's head and go with it.

Either way, this is by far the hardest, most physically demanding and troubling thing I've ever tried to make and it's taken so long to make that I've grown accustomed to having him around.

Mind you, it doesn't half give people a jolt when they come across him unexpectedly...

More to follow...

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