Tales from the Humber

April Newsletter Issue Eight

A difficult month for me, as I had to spend time in hospital. I missed a couple of deadlines but that couldn’t be helped. Recovery seems agonisingly slow, and it will take time before the medication kicks in. Frustrating! I’m trying to use the time to look up opportunities and deadlines. Things that can be done while resting. Luckily, I was out in time to deliver the Bone Shrine to Sheffield. Just seeing the countryside in all its Spring blossom was a pleasure.

One thing I can do is prepare a presentation for my art group. We are looking at Art and War. Immediately artists like Goya with his prints of the atrocities on civilians during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, Picasso, with his picture of Guernica bombed by German planes on behalf of Franco during the Spanish civil War and Henry Moor, with his iconic drawings of Londoners sheltering in the underground during the Blitz, come to mind. Instead, I wanted to feature a a surgeon in the first world war called Harold Gillies. His artistry was rebuilding soldier’s faces hideously disfigured fighting at the Somme. He kept photographic records of his work, before and after treatment.

Researching him, I came across an American Sculptor called Anna Coleman Ladd who and made prosthetic masks for soldiers badly disfigured in World War 1. Pictures of her studio showing many of the plaster casts she made of their faces would not look out of place in a gallery entitled ‘Faces of War’! The prosthetic was made of thin galvanised copper painted with hard enamel to match their skin tone. She used real hair to create eyelashes, eyebrows and moustaches. This work is now called anaplastology – the art, craft and 

science of restoring malformed anatomy through artificial means.

Faces of War

My last artist, is Francis Bacon, not an actual war artist but one influenced by  Gillies’s photographic records. Unlike the previous two artists, Bacon deliberately distorted his sitter’s faces because he felt this made the subject more real. He preferred to work from photos so he could disfigure their faces in private as he didn’t think they would like it. He never mentioned the facial disfigurement source of material, though he did talk of a book he had acquired in France, about diseases of the mouth. He found the open mouth and teeth quite sexual and used the image device quite a few of his pictures, including his ‘Three Studies of the Crucifixion’.