Guest Post – ‘Dazzle’ When Painting Went to War

Mark Gibbs our Secondary Learning Officer gives us an update on one of his projects with local Secondary schools.

“This week one of the things I’ve been getting ready for is an Arts Award workshop for 15 year 7s from William Howard School. I’m really looking forward to it, particularly as it coincides with some of my own artistic interests. The workshop combines a number of subjects that are particularly current; the First World War commemorations, our visiting War Games exhibition from the V&A Museum of Childhood, and the upcoming ARTIST ROOMS: Anselm Kiefer exhibition [7th February- 7th June].

On Friday 5 December I lead an art workshop called ‘Dazzle – When painting went to war.’ It is a workshop which seeks to mix art and military history, followed by a visit to War Games.

With U-Boats around, how do you camouflage a huge ship, especially when the pesky sky keeps changing colour? One minute its grey then a bit of blue- you could splash a bit of everything on and hope for the best, or choose an average. Thing is, even if you are lucky with your colour choice, First World War ships were powered by coal, so there’s a huge smoke plume acting as a signpost for every periscope around.

Artist Norman Wilkinson, inspired by bird plumage came up with Dazzle camouflage- you don’t try and hide the ship, you try and to make it difficult to tell how far away it is, and even, which direction it’s steaming in. So this is why ships appeared in zebra-like, migraine inducing stripes as so;

dazzle

USS West Mahomet 1918 in dazzle camouflage Photo #: 19-N-1733, Naval History and Heritage Command website

In fact if you look closely it’s difficult to see where the ship ends. As an artist I’ve become a bit obsessed with these patterns and a have made a series of sculptures inspired by them and by the historic photographs of the ships. As so;

Dazzle- image embedded in resin on raku ceramic Mark Gibbs 2014 Detail

dazzleSo inspired by Wilkinson and his team of artists our students camouflaged some ship cut outs- learning about colour mixing, contrast and pattern, as they went. Then we held a competition, comparing designs against a selected sky colour [the carpet colour actually!] Only the most confusing survived, and here were our winners.

The Winning DesignsThis workshop was followed up by a full day outreach workshop lead by myself and artist Celia Burbush, focussing on Kiefer’s work. For day 2 we  made our own version of one of Kiefer’s monumental; ‘ploughed fields of history- splash it on an inch thick’ paintings…. That’s an official art historical term.

dazzle workshop 2

Many thanks to Celia and the students from William Howard School.

Mark

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Posted on December 17, 2014, in Education, Exhibitions, Young People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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