A somewhere project by Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie

War Artists

Sunday, October 23, 2005 – 6:10 PM
by Nina


When did you say your O level is?
When did you say your O level is?
Charcoal drawing, not that easy when out of practice!

It seems from our conversations with other re-enactors that there are two very different ways of developing 'back stories' for roles. Some people relish the reading up on characters and developing personalities that may be different to their own, and to a certain extent at Kentwell the gentry in Tudor times all need to follow this model as they are re-enacting the lives of real and 'known' personalities who've lived at the house.

The approach I'm personally more interested in, is those who to a certain extent try to imagine themselves living during the given time. Many of the re-enactors who favour this approach tend to have roles which involve a good deal of practical skills - such as cooking or making - where in a way your 'research' is as much about the 'doing' of something as the 'knowing' about it.

Our WW II roles seem to need a combination of these two approaches, I very much want to try and picture how it would have been for us to live then as artists, but in order to do this feel like I need to know more about how artists lived but more importantly thought at that time.

This week we discovered some real evidence to back up our hunch that the Royal College of Art (where I teach now and in 1942!) was indeed evacuated to the Ambleside in the Lake District during the war (very near where Karen lives now). My 'getting it right' excitement at finding the Ambleside facts was rather dashed by the completely conservative (even for that time) examples of work that illustrate the little catalogue "Artist as Evacuee" that documents the staff and student work from this time. Somehow the thought of being conservative landscape etchers even in 1942 doesn't seem that appealing!

During research certain scraps of information do 'lodge' with you, and suddenly the period feels much nearer. I've always been keen on Eric Ravilious's work - but didn't realise he actually went missing in 1942 during a trip to Iceland in service as a war artist & whilst on the staff role of the RCA. Imagining your contemporary colleagues lost during an aeroplane patrol does serve to bring the whole experience closer.

sometime later