RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: War

Letters and Layers

There can be few, if anyone alive who faught in the horror of those fields in Flanders during the First World War and the family threads which tie myself, like so many others to that generation grow ever weaker as each year passes.

Over the last four years we have seen many services, exhibitions and publications in commemoration of the 1914-1918 Great War and they may well be the last of any major significance.   And commemorate is all we can now do, first hand experiences have exhausted their testimony as the final battalion of veterans have joined their brothers in arms.  And yet the war has influenced, however indirectly, each and every one of us and the world in which we now live.

It’s effects resonate and rumble on, the bass tone which echoes around the world of which we are barely aware, as the sountracks of each generation since have been laid down and mixed atop.  They can no longer be separated, as fresh paint meets rust, it peels and flakes, old with new.

For many family life and history was forever changed as layers of desperate, heartbreaking pain and fear forced their way into the very DNA of homes across the land,  plastering them with an unwanted, enveloping layer of ‘wallpaper’, whole families captive within the confines of this compound.  The rumble of the guns have ceased but the fallout has echoed down the generations, defying the latest paint and fashions, etched into every nook and cranny.  Precious letters so carefully tucked away,  come to light as homes are cleared and another generation takes up the mantle.  Faded photographs of life before and life after – ghostly abscences, once there were four now just three.  Scratch beneath the layers a little and there you will reveal the evidence, the reason for enigmas and  secrets and sadness.

There you will find answers to why things are the way they are.

 

Top:  ‘Madame Brugiere’

Above: ‘Un Petit Mot’

The Red Hat

 

Sometimes I’m asked about the stories behind my paintings.  More often than not they’re personal to me and I prefer to leave the viewer to connect (or not) in their own way so that the image becomes meaningful to them.  However, this year I have been working on a collection inspired  by the World Wars in particular the First, the end of which in 1918 left a trail of fragmented families and shattered lives.

I’m not even sure that ‘inspired’ is the right word – how can you be inspired by such carnage, such ‘….guttering, choking, drowning ….’ as Wilfred Owen wrote?  I think it would be more correct to say I’m awed by the people who were there and those who were left behind, by their ability to ‘carry on’ in the face of extreme adversity.  It’s this ability of a human spirit to navigate the unknown, the uncertainty, the highs and the awful lows which speaks to me.  During those long endured years the highs were to be snatched and savoured, wherever and whenever possible, moments and memories created eagerly, providing new escape routes for an anxious mind.  Like buying a new hat.

A year ago I attended a talk by Magnum social photographer David Hurn.  Now in his eighties he was both fascinating and entertaining, not just for his wonderful images but for his personal and insightful stories.  He’d never considered becoming a photographer until one day he picked up a copy of ‘Picture Post’ and saw a photograph which changed the whole course of his life.  The image was of a Russian Army Officer buying his wife a hat in a Moscow department store.  It moved him to tears as it reminded him of how his own father, home on leave from the Second World War, had taken his mother to buy a hat.  In that moment he realised the power an image can have on it’s viewer and he was hooked.

This story only came into my mind as I was in the final stages of painting ‘The Red Hat’.  The woman wearing it is my maternal grandmother ‘nana’ – her husband I never knew even though I carry his genes.  As a career naval man he survived the First World War and despite being in his mid fifties was called up for the Second, which he did not.  I don’t know what to call him – grandfather or grandad implies a familiarity which we never enjoyed.  I’d never seen a photograph of him until last year and it was a powerful moment, to witness for the first time someone who I recognised despite never having met. It moved me to tears too.

This series of paintings called ‘Futility’ – a reference to Wilfred Owen’s poem of this name –  is my way of acknowledging his existence and contribution, of weaving some kind of relationship between grandparent and grandchild.  So the paintings are full of stories, not just mine but other people’s.  As for the hat, I don’t know whether it was red or not so I indulged in a little artistic licence!

‘The Red Hat’

Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Mud and a Meeting of Minds 1917

 

Mud.

Thick, cloying, seeping.

Consuming, filthy, blanket

binding you as brothers

in mud laden arms.

Bath.

Soap, water, scrub.

Submerged, aching, wallowing

purging you as brothers

in trenches of white.

Search.

Memories, mind, self.

Trapped, engulfed, besieged

chains you as brothers

in images of hell.

Write.

Poetry, prose, horror.

Dredge, expose, release

links you as brothers

in words of truth.

 

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at  Craiglockhart War Hospital August 1917

The meeting lead to Owen’s haunting ‘war poems’.  He was born in Oswestry and lived in my home town of Shrewsbury, England.

‘Poppies for Peace’ Rebecca Pells

The Somme 100 Years

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The Somme 100 Years

1st July 1916 marked the start of this bloody battle

57,470 casualties

19,240 died

And that was just the British

In a single day.

Today

in a fractured  Great Britain

on the cusp of cutting ties of friendship with Europe.

Least we forget the terribly consequences of political failure.

Peace must be prized above all else.

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(Installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock)

Easter 1916 – Was it Yesterday?

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‘Was it Yesterday’ by Rebecca Pells

available from https://www.artfinder.com/product/was-it-yesterday/

A few moths ago I attended the launch of a book written by the father of a friend.  First published in 1928/29, ‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown recounts his experiences in France during the First World War. For many years it remained out of print until his son and daughter, themselves now into their 80’s, realised that his story would be of interest to many others and so they set about the task of re-publishing.

‘When  he volunteered in 1914, A M Bown was a twenty year old scholar at Oxford (university) studying science.  He became an artillery subaltern and remained one throughout the First World War, being wounded twice and gaining the Military Cross for bravery.  This book, although fictionalised, grew out of his personal experiences and is a vivid and authentic account.

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He tells of ordinary day-to-day incidents, some amusing, some frightening, and gives a sense of real lives – and real deaths.  He keeps throughout a respect for his fellow soldiers, saying:

“So this little team in khaki stood waiting for the starting gun . . . in the greatest game of all, and whatever share the fields of Eton (college) may have had in any winning of it, the same share must be credited to the back alleys and the cinder patches, the parks and the recreation grounds which had been the nurseries of most of those who stood together in that forward line, picked to play for England.” ‘

Inspired by Bown’s story and with his family’s permission, I painted  ‘Was it Yesterday?’  The opened book sits upon a table from around 1916.  Original wallpaper tinged with ‘forget-me-not’ blue symbolizes the fading of memories of a time long since gone but which also bears witness to the present – a jug of fresh spring daffodils and bright scarf cast aside in a hurried moment. So intense are the events of which the author writes, that they feel like they happened only yesterday.

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‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown

available from

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Was-Yesterday-M-Bown/dp/1909644595/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459161959&sr=8-1&keywords=was+it+yesterday+a+m+bown

Remembrance

Leaving - Copy (2)

POPPIES

The act of remembrance is also a reminder that we are still here, standing at the new horizon as the old makes a distant retreat.  The lost horizon is always there, carried within us but the act of remembrance focuses our gaze upon it.  A portal through which we approach that fading vista, remembrance offers up the door through which we are beckoned by our lost loves – by those we are in gratitude to – but through which we can never fully walk.  Forever kept apart on the threshold of what was and what is we are either the memory or the memorised, we cannot reside betwix the two.

We are the life which has come from death.  In the viscerous fog of our mourning comes the lucent mist of our own morning.  For some there is heartbreak, still fresh, tender and yet to form time’s cradling scar.  Exposed and raw it is the sweet burden of loving someone who is now beyond our reach.  We have been asked to let go but as yet, cannot – haunted by a presence which is no longer present.  Remembrance helps us to release gently that which was not ours to keep, it enables us to step into our own discarded clothes once again, where we will re-discover the familiar shape and form of our own life and inhabit it once more just as we are supposed to do.

With remembrance comes responsibility to go on, to live our lives as a precious cherished gift from those we now remember.

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My grandfather Claude Pells (seated) with an ‘Unknown Soldier’

during the First World War.  My grandfather survived the trenches of France and lived into his 80’s.

I do not know the fate of his brother in arms.

POPPIES from one of my paintngs.  To see more of my work click here.

Parallel Time

In recognition of National Poetry Day, I’m re-posting a poem I wrote last December.  Sadly it is as relevant today as it was then.

  —

North. East. West. South.

Instant. Happening. Plus one and real time,

Parallel worlds and lives which don’t chime.

Twenty four seven, channels to choose

Inward we turn, money to loose.

Pools of champagne, pools of blood,

Encroaching. Unwanted. Drought and flood.

Which world is mine in parallel time?

Reality TV talent to spot,

TV for real – someone is shot.

 Christmas delivered, targets to meet,

Harvest failed, kids in bare feet.

Toy penguins emote season’s first frost,

Polar melt – the arctic is lost.

Which life is mine in parallel time?

 Big Brother House. Ok! Hello!

Charnel house, Sierra, Aleppo.

White House secrets outed old lies,

Foggy Jungle King, Malala Peace Prize.

No arms, no legs, no head to crown,

Bloody Sunday; Cyber Monday death in town.

 Which conflict is mine in parallel time?

North. East. South. West.

Lives of celebrities to whom we aspire,

 Suicide bombers few can admire.

Knives quick to draw, turkeys to carve,

Minors in designers . . . others will starve.

Action man sold out. Tragedy! Child cries.

Boy soldier shot. Tragedy. Stumbles and dies.

The choice is mine in parallel time.

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