Over the past several years I have been interested in the political context within which the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century emerged—the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Constructivists and the Bauhaus especially. This research led to a study of the historical factors giving rise to WWI and the Russian Revolution of 1917.
This investigation inspired after 1914 and The Suffragettes. after 1914 comprises a series of paintings and etchings made after group photographs of soldiers from both sides of the WWI conflict, as well as a series of smaller prints based on propaganda posters from both sides, and portraits of key political and cultural figures involved in or responding to the War efforts. The Suffragettes, a more recent project, includes a body of small paintings after photo documentation of the public demonstrations of the British Suffragette movement in the early part of the 20th century.
after 1914 considers the individual contributions and collective ideologies that underwrite global conflict, then and now. The paintings and some of the etchings rework photographic portraits of military personnel from different countries involved in WWI; to date portraits from Canada, the US, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Belgium, India, Nepal and India have been completed. In each of these works special attention has been paid to the individual parts that make up the whole: unique faces and stances separate the one from the many, the individual from the group. Just as differences within each order are made apparent, similarities in circumstances from one to the other come to the fore. Regardless of personal belief or particular situation, all participants are in harms way, all are at war.
The balance of the series of etchings considers the ideological productions supporting war efforts. The series is divided into various groupings—soldiers and officers, monarchs and political leaders, avant-garde artist and organizations, future leaders and war propaganda.
While these works are focused on the social and cultural mechanisms underwriting the First World War, they are nonetheless relevant in relation to international conflict today. The retrospective look allows a long view of the nationalist and heroic rationalizations fueling engines of war.
The Suffragette Series
In the course of my study of the war I began looking at the organized political activism in England of the time and discovered the efforts of E.D. Morel and Roger Casement fighting against the genocide of the people of the Congo at the hands of King Leopold of Belgium. In 1903 Morel started his own publication, The West African Mail to report the true facts and figures of the genocide in Africa. Concurrent to this, in1903 the militant Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by the Pankhurst family. Its motto was “Deeds not Words”. In 1906 the Daily Mail newspaper gave them the name Suffragettes. Over a period of 11 years up until the outbreak of WW1 thousands of women members went to prison. The majority was sent to jail for minor charges and a small percent for more violent action. There were many other women rights organizations in England that had existed prior to and along with the Suffragettes but none were as radical in their methods. It was researching this organization and looking closely at related photographs that led to my next series of paintings.
The Suffragettes represent an homage to and reflection of the public demonstration and ‘mediatization’ of civic dissent in the Modern age and the development of social discourse about inequality within and across social communities. As with the paintings from the after 1914 series, The Suffragettes are based on historical photographs, in this instance taken from the archive at the Museum of London. I reframed the compositions on canvas selectively, leaving out the many, myriad details recorded by the camera so to focus on the individuals at the center of action. Additionally, I have added colour to the original black and white recordings, and sought dramatic points of intersection between subjects and the spaces within which they are found. In particular, I’m interested in the faces caught in the photographs: faces that express enthusiasm, collective resolve and, most of all, shared passion for an idea. In crowd scenes I look at the faces of the audience and find a range of expressions, from focused attention to curiosity to bemusement. I look for faces showing self-consciousness for the camera in the form of shyness to mild posturing, and I look for sadness and anger.
Nostalgia and romanticism are by-passed as are attempts at making masterful paintings. This series of paintings is not a comprehensive survey of the Suffragette movement but rather a partial study of the emotional complexity of bearing witness to historical events.