Monday 27 July 2009
Whilst fighting illness and surrounded by visiting family members over for a BBQ at my family home I snuck away for the afternoon to await my weekly Independent brief. This week I was asked to create an image about the death of Harry Patch, the last remaining veteran of the first World War.
Sometimes a commission comes through that makes you really think. Not so much about the job itself, but about the subject of the piece. This was certainly the case yesterday, as I got lost in thought about what this brave man had seen throughout his lifetime. This was a man who had survived a horrific war and gone on to lead a quiet life, well respected it appears, and who had only begun to talk in public about his experiences in the last 11 years; a complete contrast to the age of celebrity and 21 year olds' autobiographies that we live in now.
I don't know anything beyond what has been reported in the papers, so I will not claim to speak with any authority about Harry Patch. But I did want to create a piece with quiet dignity, which seemed in keeping with the news reports, also remembering that this was someone's grandfather not someone who chose a public life. I can't take credit for the idea this week, my art director suggested the Poppies in the chair approach, but I worked hard to make the composition quiet and understated with the addition of the wartime scene in the background populated by ghosts of a different time.
I rarely analyse my work after the event, but I was pleased with this and the sense of atmosphere that (I believe) I have generated within the image. It took a lot longer to make the background work and overall I was happy with the sense of history and memory that I created.
The Independent has carried a lot of stories about the troops in Afghanistan recently and I think it has done a fantastic job of reminding people that it is a dangerous place, something to think about in the here and now, not as something that began when I was at University and just continues to trundle in the background. Whatever one thinks about the merit of this war or any war, I always try to remember that it is real people involved with families, friends, dependents (on both sides) and not just a source of stories for Hollywood films or political posturing. My commission yesterday sparked off many conversations amongst my family, as we had a current Army captain and a Navy Veteran of World War II in the house and an absent cousin who is serving in the Army at present.
I guess that is what a simple illustration can make you think about. Harry Patch represented a generation that was lost. It put my grumblings about being ill into the shade and I hope that my work was suitably humble and respectful to his memory and his family.
*any views expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect the Independent's editorial position.