Allan Gwynne-Jones and my response in relation to the topic of war and conflict
The subject of war and conflict is one which has many interpretations associated with the words. War and conflict can be represented in many different ways, from museum exhibitions to film, TV and artwork. During the Second World War British artists produced over 6,000 pieces of war art, Men who had made a living from painting now faced the experiences of war, shaping their own perspectives and influencing the way we see war today (1).
The artist I chose, Allan Gwynne Jones, served during World War One before teaching at the Royal College of Art. He was commissioned during WWII to make two portraits of RAF VCs in March 1944 and was also asked by the War Artist Advisory Committee to make portraits of the Australian Air Force. There have been many interpretations of war art from landscapes to portraits, as well as different styles from sketches, watercolour, and abstract paintings. Allan Gwynne Jones’ portraits show a sketch detail in his portraits rather than paint. The level of detail captures their features and the detail of their military uniforms. I have always been interested in portraits in artwork as I feel they capture the essence of the person that is the focus of the artwork and the level of detail and style in Allan Gwynne Jones’ work showcases this. The detail not only from the features of the men but also the creases in their uniform and any other distinguishing features.
The themes around war and conflict are interpreted in many ways through war art, and the reasons for it for some may be clear, as propaganda, but has had an influence on how we understand history. As someone who grew up moving around a lot due to my father being in the RAF and had a relative in Bomber Command, the topic of war and conflict may be quite different to someone else because of our different interpretations and personal connections. The artwork for me creates an emotional response, the use of portraits showing individual characteristics makes me think about these people in different ways.
What was their name?
What were they thinking when this portrait was being drawn?
How do they feel about the war?
Do they have family back home?
All these questions and responses may emerge for different people and their own perspective and possible preconceptions of war. The emotions that emerge from the artwork could stem from Allan Gwynne Jones’ own experiences of serving in World War One. During the First World War the government developed different art schemes to record, document all aspects of war providing propaganda and to keep artists employed and protected (2). Allan Gwynne Jones was commissioned to create these sketches and so suggests that these were for propaganda purposes. I have found it interesting the motives from the artist’s perspective on creating the sketches, how did he feel when creating them? Did he get reminded of his own experiences of war? Did he use his personal experiences to create his artwork?
Portraits have been a common form of artwork throughout history and currently The National Portrait Gallery have used the pandemic as a way to represent a unique perspective of portraits through the National lockdown. The project named Hold Still involved inviting people to submit a photographic portrait through May-June 2020 and focused on three themes: Helpers and Heros, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness (3). These portraits included those on the front line (doctors, nurses, paramedics, retail workers) and in relation to the concept of war and conflict could be represented as the pandemic being a “war” and those on the frontline were “soldiers” especially as the pandemic also affected current warzones. These portraits shown of doctors, nurses and paramedics show a different side of the pandemic which the public do not see.
(1) Bourke, J. (2018) CNN Style: Arts, paintings, protest, and propaganda: a visual history of warfare https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/depicting-war-through-art/index.html
(2) Podcast: The Imperial War Museum BBC Radio 3 Remembrance Debate 2020 11 November 2020 Arts and Ideas, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08y3rkn
(3) National Portrait Gallery, Hold Still https://www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/hold-still-gallery/