La Boisselle, Northern France
This series of paintings portrays the violent and alien landscapes of the British held sector of the Western Front during the First World War.
The landscapes were derived from photographs and other sources, and I hope were presented in a context more accessible to contemporary minds than sepia photographs and museum exhibits.
The painting surface is 18mm MDF burned and covered with graphite to suggest blackened iron, alluding to the Industrial Revolution.
In the process of researching this exhibition I visited the villages and farmlands of the Ypres and Somme areas where the terrible fighting of WW1 took place. It is now a very beautiful place and it is difficult to imagine the hideous transformation it underwent between 1914 and 1918. Only occasionally did I 'realise' the past during my visit.
The landscape today is very similar to that previous to 1914 ie. quiet farmland, small market towns etc. The war years seem like a terrible disease from which the land has slowly recovered. It has not been 'cured' however. If you look closely its scars are seen everywhere, huge craters lie open to the sky and ghost like trench marks still zig-zag their way through ploughed fields.
Unexploded bombs are regularly recovered and they occasionally explode. Every year people are injured or worse. Someone once remarked to me that 'they are still digging up Roman coins so you can expect the war to produce for a long time to come'. There was such a concentration of heavy and prolonged bombing on this area that in some areas the contours of the landscape itself were changed beyond recognition.
I have been interested in, and researching WW 1 since 1998 when the final, state-organised Remembrance Day took place. In that time I have become quite familiar with the '14-'18 landscape so it was surprising to see it appearing as beautiful, healthy and productive agricultural land. At a glance all obvious traces of the war seem to have vanished except for the small pockets of no-mans land which still exist in the form of countless cemeteries of all sizes, containing tens to tens of thousands of graves.
There are many accounts with very lucid descriptions of the landscapes we created during the war, miles and miles of blasted earth and burned soil, poisoned, bombed and shattered over and over again. Not a tree left standing or a blade of grass growing - in short lifeless. More like the Martian or Lunar landscapes we are now so familiar with than France or Belgium.
This is a contemporary analogy of the resulting landscape, unforeseen by the participants in the war, but to me the similarities are very striking.
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Loch Nagar is also the name of a mountain in Scotland.
Shell holes and craters and ditches and trenches filled with treacherous mud and water.
The attack on Mametz Wood on 7 July 1916 was suicide.
The most controversial battle of the Great War was the third major battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It took place between July and November, 1917.
The pattern of death, drawn by white chalk that came out of the trenches and the shell holes.
Zonnebeke, in Flanders, was the place where the first trenches in the Ypres Salient were dug, between 16th and 20th October 1914.
The Battle of Mouquet Farm was one of the most tragic Australian experiences of 1914-18 on the Western Front.
Langemark became the grave of numerous German boy soldiers. About 15% of Germany's volunteers were students and high school graduates. Entire lecture-rooms and classes - together with professors and teachers - would take themselves down to the recruiting offices.
|German war cemetery at Langemark
This large German cemetery is only seven miles from Ypres. Many of the boy soldiers mentioned above lie here and for this reason the cemetery is often known as the Studentenfriedhof - the Students Cemetery.
|French war cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette
The memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette commemorates the bloody fighting in January - March 1915, in which the French infantry eventually held the line and more or less saved their country. A determined German attack initially penetrated the line, but in the end the Germans were driven back.
|Britisch war cemetery Tyne Cot
One of the largest and most impressive war cemeteries in Flanders is Tyne Cot, situated to the south of the village of Passendale.
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