1917 saw one of the most iconic battles of World War I at Passchendaele (English spelling ) or Passendale the name now used by the Belgiums today. This battle saw 275,000 men under British command and 220,000 Germans lose their lives in the mud of Flanders with 18,000 bodies believed still to be held in the soils of this land.
In the latest of my series of art commemorating the battle of Passendale that began on the 31st July 1917 until November the same year I retraced the steps of those men over the land that saw so many die in terrible circumstances in Passendale and the surrounding area. Immersing myself in the place where the events actually occurred allows for total focus on the energies and memories of the land whilst creating the art that will commemorate the event and the people who were there 100 years ago. Passendale has a strong energy that flows through the woods, ridges and fields still today. As you walk you can see the physical evidence still with shrapnel balls, pieces of metal and all manner of things including the characteristics of the land such as young trees where we saw the iconic images of blackened tree stumps where the trees had also been blown to bits by the millions upon millions of shells fired over the years of the war.
Passendale was the third battle of the Ypres Salient ( a bulge in the frontline around the town of Ypres where shelling could occur from 3 sides..) but was the most dreadful of them all if that is possible….Stalemate, mud and the scale of the casualties were the common themes of this battle where men and horses drowned in the thick deep gooey mud if they deviated from the tracks and paths that tracked across the area “you needed to watch the colour of the water that lay everywhere-you looked for the light colour and avoided the darker where one step would lead to your death”.
Paintings here take on a relevance and an energy of there own as I capture the emotions and energies emanating from the land and the people as they repeat the stories of their forebears who lived and experienced the time of conflict in their homeland.
The initial layer on the first evening was black, red and white resulting in significant amounts of grey- a colour I loathe and never choose to use as it totally drains me. The first layer reminded me of the criss cross of the barbed wire that crossed and barricaded much of the land during the battle-this is also shown in the last part of the painting that includes details from trench maps of the time….The image below looks so ghostly and is actually in focus and how it actually looked-so strange…..
Each painting is created over the week that I am there with visits and research in between working in the mornings and evenings. Varlet Farm where this images are taken is on the frontline battlefield where artefacts are found on a daily basis. Recently a young farmer lost his life when a shell exploded under his tractor as he worked in the fields.
When I posted the above image of the next layer on one of the FB sites I am a part of someone commented “wtf!” and I don’t blame them!!I work intuitively picking up emotions and energies of the subject and this was what happened on the canvas as I trust myself to create. This painting has been the most disturbing and difficult to interpret that I have ever created. I had no idea at this point what was going to happen and it was really troubling me emotionally. I was struggling at this point wondering what was going to happen and actually why the hell I was doing this at all…and then my trust in myself kicked in…emember just trust and go with it-its never failed you….(yet!) was the mantra that I kept repeating to myself!! This to me says ghostly figures roam the land today, the alien head saying how alien this experience must have been to those involved in this fight over land where I was stood!! The heart is the love from those left behind with a deep dark pool of blood running from the heart to the ground in a pool of darkness and horror….
And then it became this…..
The green archways are those of the Menen Gate where the names of …….men whose bodies have never been found or identified are named in remembrance. Every evening at 8pm a short ceremony of remembrance is still held attended by anyone who wants to be there. Every time I attend, its poignancy reminds me of all those men who marched away from home with such hope in their eyes never to return to normal life….2 Pugsley men are named on the Menen Gate which adds a personal nature to the poignancy…..Thank you Ypres for your dedication to all these men and the families who remember them. The squares are the ceiling of the gate through which many journey each and every day today. The white tree stumps are taken from an iconic image of the time shown below with my distinctive swirls taking a new significance as the shells exploding that caused so much carnage and devastation. The 2 trees inter twined in the centre are possible the comradeship these men had in life and death with those around them sharing the experience together always…..The bird I believe is a bird swooping and swirling above the scene below bringing the hope of peace.The addition of the blues and other colours in the sky and the land also at this point gave me a sense of normality and also look incredible in different light with their changing metallic hues. The blue in the sky reminds me of the first of many of gas attacks that occurred first here and then throughout the years-a ghastly way to destroy men and animals in the conflict of war!
The addition of poppies and daisies the flowers of remembrance of Commonwealth countries and Belgium today with the tree and the green representing possibly the rebirth and renewal of the land after the war finished.
I wondered if this was it and whether the negative space in the lower right was meant to be there with nothing else to draw attention to the rest of the painting. I don’t normally use a lot of negative space so the addition of the trench map and the cow parsley over the top was actually a bit of a relief. Trench maps fascinated me in the last few days of the trip and now I knew why…recently a friend had show my husband Tom and I some maps from her relative who had been killed in WWI and they are quite fascinating…of course they changed so frequently as the lines and features changed as the war progressed…..The final painting below shows the addition of these…
I am thankful and grateful for the inspiration that the trip gave me to create this painting…in my view possible one of the most significant of those I have created as part of my series commemorating the people, places and events of WWI….. the toughest to create by far!!!
For more of my work on this series check out the rest of my WWI blogs on my website www.charronpugsleyhill.com