‘Exactitude is truth’: Representing the British military through commissioned artworks
Gough, P. print (2008) ‘Exactitude is truth’: Representing the British military through commissioned artworks. Journal of War and Culture Studies, 1 (3). pp. 341-356. ISSN 1752-6272
Publisher's URL: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Arti...
The work of ‘regimental artists’ is often derided for being jingoistic, irrelevant and predicated on anachronistic representational strategies rooted in high-Victorian battle painting. Despite their marginal status, a core of professional painters today work regularly for the British armed services to record, and occasionally commemorate, contemporary and past feats of arms, as well as more mundane public service duties such as ceremonial display and ‘Keeping the Army in the Public Eye’ (KAPE) tours. Their work is largely unseen by the non-military public, largely because it is intended for a closed community of serving soldiers, their families, and veterans who are associated with the unit. Yet, as a sizeable contemporary body of art work, it contributes to the commemorative rhetoric of the British military and employs a number of artists of national standing. Drawing on the author’s own experiences as a several-times commissioned military artist, this paper is a ‘work-in-progress’ that examines the work of several painters – John Ross, Ken Howard, and Keith Holmes – who have worked intermittently for the British armed services in the past three decades. But the paper will takes as its principle working case-study the work of painter David Rowlands, commissioned in the 1990s by the Permanent Joint Headquarters (UK) as their official artist to record the British build-up in the Arabian Gulf, and since then fully employed by units in the British army (and some overseas military units) to paint commemorative works related to active service overseas, largely in Iraq and more recently Afghanistan. Through an examination of Rowlands’ work, the paper touches upon the formal language of military painting, particularly the tensions between illustration and interpretation, between factual and technical accuracy, and examines the issues of authenticity and historical verity. The paper also touches upon issues of agency and reception, and the stresses between the commissioning process, the independence of the artist as interpreter, and broader concerns of testimony and visual authority.
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