Parallel Project – Remembering Passchendaele

It is the centenary of the battle at Passchendaele, where approximately half a million men, French, British and German, died. Remembrance of those gone lies at the heart of my parallel project; their presence in our memory, their absence from our lives.

During the recent book making course, the tutor was encouraging us to write in our books (the emphasis of the course was literary, rather than artistic), and in particular, suggested that the origami book design with its three internal pages, was especially suited to a Haiku. This Japanese poem has three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. I made a very small origami book out of grey marbled Japanese paper, which I think brings to mind clouds or swirling mist. I am always reluctant to use handwriting, since my writing is rubbish and, being dyslexic, I don’t always write the character which I intend. P’s become b’s etc. Here is my poor effort:

The bad poetry and handwriting aside, I like this delicate, painted paper combined with text, or, possibly image and will consider it as a component of an artists’s book.

I have been reviewing my work throughout the course and thinking about what worked well. One of the works I selected was a transfer print, after Rauschenberg, which considered family memories.

Since I made this work, I have been collecting suitable images from newspapers which I might use in another. These range from high-heeled shoes and donuts (possibly for use in a modern ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’?) to historical, domestic or political images. One is this famous photograph from WW1 taken in the aftermath of Passchendaele.

I have been exploring the effects produced by acryl gouache, and want to introduce the ghosts of these soldiers into a landscape of forms suggested by gouache and water. The runs and blooms of the paint might be eloquent of the mire and desolation of Flanders.

A2, acryl gouache on 160gm cartridge

I dropped gouache of various dilutions into water washes suggested by the puddles and shattered trees of the photograph. This has resulted in a rather more representational image than I expected. The foreground is watery and chaotic, which is appropriate, but I wish I had let less say more. Slanting the paper up and down, I encouraged runs in both directions for the trees and I think that this has worked well for the starkness of the landscape.

Using the computer, I tried out various positions of the photo with in the drawing.

Having photographed the one image and scanned the other, I have a scaling problem here. The photo is actually smaller relative to the drawing than this composite. The photo in the newspaper is about A5 and the transfer method with solvent means that I cannot scale it. Also, the process only works with high contrast images which this is not. The photograph will have to be positioned in a lighter area of the drawing.

I thought that the transfer would be small and pale but this is disappointing. I don’t mind the soldiers being pale and ghostly but they are difficult to read in such a noisy  and contrasty background. I used gesso to make the area around the soldiers paler. The gesso looked flat and as though it was floating above the surface so, drawing on the lessons of the recent Experimental Drawing workshop, I distressed the surface with a scalpel. This has had the effect of adding to the war-torn nature of the scene. The figures stand out better but perhaps still look too small in the landscape.

If you crop into the drawing, the figures look better and the combination of transfer and paper surface becomes more interesting.

I could just select this portion, but I have decided to condense the drawing by tearing it apart and reassembling it; development by destruction. In reassembling it, I have tried to fragment the landscape. I have tried to capture that feeling of visiting a place after many years. I find that my memories are inaccurate and have distorted the landscape, omitting some parts, and making some features much more prominent than reality.

The revised shapes have the effect of drawing the eye to the ghostly soldiers.

Enlargement

This isn’t exactly what I set out to achieve; it has developed through the process. The result is a genuine, heartfelt response to the ordeal suffered by so many one hundred years ago, gone but not forgotten.

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2 thoughts on “Parallel Project – Remembering Passchendaele

  1. Stefan J Schaffeld

    Really exciting approach – relevant of constructed memories and lost images. How do you do your transfers? You mentioned solvent, is it newspaper or inkjet print transfer ? I work mostly till now with acrylic transfer of inkjet prints. Great to see the development through the process. Wondering what you relate to as ‘representational’

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    Reply
    1. starrybird Post author

      Hi Stefan, the transfer is done from newspaper (or mag) pics dampened with white spirit or similar solvent and rubbed down from the back using an empty biro, just as documented by Rauschenberg. Interesting final question – not sure – will think about that and get back to you…….but I am after ambiguity, oblique statement, suggestion.

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