The truth of War

Some thoughts following the lecture on Friday where we were taken back in time to the First World War and shown the incredible art work produced by the artists of the time who travelled with the Army, Navy and RAF, appropriate at this time of year when we’ve just had Remembrance Sunday.

In 1993 The Times Newspaper and The Imperial War Museum commissioned Peter Howson to go to Bosnia to travel with the British forces who were part of the United Nations Protection Force. Howson struggled with his commission and found it hard to produce work for the exhibition which would follow, he suffered illness and never felt happy enough with what he’d produced, painting over it again and again and  at one point he had his art materials stolen and found he had to improvise with candle grease and boot polish. This helped him at the time as the work he produced from then on was more simple and made him realise that it was the everyday things he should paint not just the strong moments.

The work he went on to create for the IWM was subject to debate as the subject in the paintings was very controversial – Howson had captured what he saw but also what he’d heard about and the British press argued he should only paint what he saw, although they too were reporting on the awfulness of what was happening! However the paintings were all hung at the exhibition and carried a warning that the exhibition might not be suitable for children.  After the exhibition the IWM only kept one of the paintings, the one causing controversy is in the collection of David Bowie.

Imperial War Museum

Jackson, A., 1997. A Different Man: Peter Howson’s Art, from Bosnia and Beyond. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing.

The reason I talk about Howson was because he had a big influence on my son.  Stevie ‘lived’ in the art department whilst at school and the work Howson produced encouraged him to paint what he felt  and again Stevies’ paintings caused controversy within the school.  They had a dark side to them but they were all hung outside the school library for years.  Art should be allowed to show the dark side, as with press reporting not all in this world is good, art is just another way to tell a story. I feel if it makes us feel uncomfortable that says more about us than about the artist.


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