World War 1 Centenary Exhibition




Gallery 1




Rae Hicks

Chicken Imperator

 Oil pastel on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


Imperator - from Latin ‘to order’ or ‘to command’. In the final few years of the 19th Century, Alfred Jarry bases the warmongering and impetuous European warlord Ubu Roi on an authoritarian school teacher. 'Ubu' is reputedly based on a dialectical French pronunciation of ‘Herbert’.


Five years after the First World War, Max Ernst paints Ubu Imperator, a scene of apostasy in which a lonely, rotund classical building teetering on its single spinning-top leg wanders a wasteland above which storm clouds roil menacingly. The work posits the European emperor figure as one that is disowned and disenfranchised.


In the mid-eighties, whilst developing the universe of the table top game Warhammer 40,000, author Rick Priestley invents the absurdist Imperator Titan - a walking, armed, city-cathedral to the hysterical and regressive religion of a cruel future mankind.


Roughly ten years after Ubu Imperator, the character of Loplop - a shape shifting, bird-like alter ego begins to emerge in Max Ernst’s work.


Possessing a prehistoric provenance - the bird, especially the chicken - is both a symbol of quotidian society and of a removed, asocial being. In Chicken Imperator, I have used a Loplop-esque bird figure in the role of the destroyer and provider, ultimately in the role of administrator. Chicken Imperator is ridiculous but machine-like, predatory and indifferent.




Mateusz Sarzynski


Oil paint and spray paint on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


It was really hard for me to relate to the World War 1 subject. I was raised in the internet era and I used the internet to help me find information about that time. I am a Polish citizen, so the end of World War 1 is important for our nation because after the war, Poland regained its independence after 123 years of partitions. I tried to approach the subject intuitively. I started to draw kids fighting at first, but after a few minutes it felt wrong. Then I turned the paper over and drew a kid in a German helmet holding and firing a gun. The drawing is a bit sad because even though World War 1 was a terrible event and many people were killed, many wars followed it and there are still more to come.




Chris Shaw


Household paint on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I use washing-up sponges to make my work. This method produces a secondary sort of mark - a printed mark - that I like. This particular work, which I call Rise, has a totem-like feel to it. It could be a symbol of men in a time of dehumanising war when flesh armours up and points toward its enemy with a singular purpose - to kill (or be killed). It’s a dark work but there is poise for reflection in the moon-like disk that adds a plaintive and wistful aspect to the grid-like forms found elsewhere.




Gallery 2




John Abell

Goodbye To All That

Pencil and ink on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I was very concerned with trying to get across some sense of the vastness of the conflict. The drawing was started at the bottom with no total plan or idea where it was going to go but I ended up piling vignette on top of vignette until it became different sections of a front line in nine separate drawings. The giant rearing horseman is a representation of madness but also a way to unify the image as a whole.





Babette Semmer

Hannah Höch and Käthe Kollwitz in the Studio

Ink on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 and Hannah Höch is exactly a hundred years my senior, born in 1889. Both of them lived and worked in Berlin and experienced the First World War and both of them liked paper. They were both concerned with how society impacts the body and yet their work couldn’t have been more different. These women never shared a studio but I like the idea of them chatting away while at work on their own projects. They might have exchanged knowledge about types of paper and ideas about composition and proportion or spent all day arguing about the role of the artist in society and the point of Dadaism vs Realism vs Expressionism. Kollwitz would have stood by the window capturing the outside world on her litho stone while Höch would have been comfortably seated at her desk scattered with magazine clippings – her gaze as sharp as her scissors.


When I paint I sometimes sit and I sometimes stand depending on the energy or pace something needs and the mood I’m in. When I use ink I like to make use of its fluidity but usually I make smaller ink drawings at a desk. This work required a lot more movement and a lot more water. Water isn’t present in the Kollwitz-Höch studio, it’s a very dry working environment: crayon on stone and scissors on paper. I looked at photographs of the women’s heads and their work, but then I basically invented this scene and painted the picture in one session with the paper lying on my studio floor, moving around the room to get to all the parts. Making this picture was physically demanding and I felt like I was channeling the Kollwitz-spirit in that sense, but Höch’s spirit also came through – the picture has a weird sense of humour.





Stephen West

On Les Aura!

Compressed charcoal on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I had been thinking about the years 1910 to 1914 and how Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska had invigorated and dynamised the British sculpture scene and I had researched the works of Gaudier-Brzeska at the National Museum in Cardiff. I made a sculpture Modernist Sculpture for an exhibition called 14 for Llantarnam Grange Art Centre in Cwmbran in the Welsh valleys. It was a carved stone piece - a column with a relief carved Mauser rifle butt of the type that Brzeska had described carving a Madonna into, and topped with an abstracted dynamist female form pierced with a hole.


I continued letting Brzeska inform my work so that when Three Works asked me to make a drawing for the WW1 show I immediately thought of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s death from a bullet in the head at the front in 1915 and his observations on war, mechanisation and nature. He sent a few drawings back to London from the front and contributed writing to BLAST magazine. One of his drawings of a shell-burst over the trenches I took as my starting point. In a letter he described sheltering from an artillery bombardment and seeing a family of partridges, mother and chicks, running along the top of the dugout. I wanted to include this image, this little observation, as I feel Gaudiers inspiration was the simple repetitive energy of nature rather than the man-made mechanisms of industrial war.


Chris Shaw has sent all the artists a large assembled sheet of newsprint – a material we all used as students or at school with no money for proper materials and I warm to the limitation of creating something from basic materials – just compressed charcoal and cheap paper – it’s the bread and butter or the breath of artists. I had no problem getting the darker tones by working the compressed charcoal sticks and found the newsprint doesn’t really tear too readily and I was happy not to dilute the force and simplicity of the idea by adding chalk or white paint. Once the shell burst and partridges were there I thought of the images I’d seen of Mametz Wood in the Battle of the Somme where so many of the Welsh Fusiliers were killed or survived with injury or trauma and the part of the drawing with the blackened trees grew in the top corner – I also included a Zeppelin here, taken from the Led Zeppelin III album and a reference to the thought of a Zeppelin raid on Scarborough (in my mind I had confused the shelling of Scarborough from a warship with an early air raid) and I included the Scarborough Rotunda Museum with some trilobites collected by William Smith, the early geologist and map-maker (whose concept the Rotunda was) – a great example of an ‘enlightenment’ man whose example the Great War seems to negate. The bottom right corner of the drawing comes from a French poster which my neighbour, a dealer in military memorabilia, has in his house – an image made in chalk as a lithograph work of art to encourage subscriptions to the war ‘On les aura!’ which I suppose means ‘We will have them!’ and makes a good title for the drawing.


Everyone has their own stories and impression of the Great War and in some ways we are still living in its shadow – certainly the incredible radical European art of the 1910s changed for ever after the loss and injury to creative young men. I want my drawing to be a tribute to those creative and enlightened spirits who help to make life worth living... and one of them – a little portrait of Henri Gaudier – appears between the legs and the Rotunda at bottom left.




Gallery 3




Nichollas Hamper

Grandad’s Ship

PVA and ink on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I had a lot of difficulty with the newsprint being so fragile. I gave it a coat of PVA to strengthen it. This was nearly disastrous as it almost dissolved the paper. When it was dry however, it had a strange warped, crinkly and skin-like quality. I had to work quickly with a big brush because of the fragility of the paper. It really made me loosen up. I wanted it to look a bit like the Battleship Potemkin with all its associations. It’s also like a big tattoo.





Miroslav Pomichal

Broken Dreams

Ink on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I saw the Aftermath exhibition at Tate Britain several times and what struck me most was a small photograph of an enormous pile of broken and discarded cannons. It was a pile somewhere in a French city just after the war ended. There was something very weird and anthropomorphic about it – cannons and barrels whose brittle structures and arms stuck out and interlinked. It was an embrace that was reminiscent of other piles from the other world war.


I made a few drawings with the photo as a starting point, even before Chris approached me about the show. I felt it was natural to try to work this thing up. It sat well with my current practice, my interest in ‘ruins’, and the current absence of the protagonist in my work. Heavy unusable things remain – leftovers from some dreadful and desperate struggle. The gods and the fathers have left the earth having tried and failed to break it in the name of the spirit. Only bemused children remain, pottering about in the ruins.


This absence of a living agent, the protagonist, is partly connected to the inability to comprehend the traumas of the past. The Great War has now left living memory, and my own understanding and empathy of the event is inevitably coloured, or polluted, or skewed beyond measure, by fantasy and imagery that is bloated and mutated in the dark places of urban and contemporary imagination. Maybe that is why the shapes I make end up so exaggerated, inflated, schematic. The image in one sense also becomes just the interplay of form, facets overlaid on a flat field – the superficiality and pathos of pure form. I added a Mark of Chaos on a cannon barrel – instead of the historical regimental and national symbols – to encapsulate this.





Phil King


Acrylic paint on newsprint

152x216cm / 2018


I was kind of stuck when I got the paper and put it aside for awhile. I wanted to reproduce the front page of a newspaper of the time announcing the armistice. Then I noticed that the 9 pieces of paper matched the 9 letters of `armistice' and I just did it. Then I felt that somehow the result matched feelings that I have about how the end of World War 1 really set the conditions for World War 2 and how awful it must have been for those who survived the war to end all wars to find themselves in the total war of World War 2. 'ARM' made me think of armament and raising arms 'IST' of German and Germany, perhaps of learning German at school ... and 'ICE' of that Joy Division track Living in the Ice Age that I lost myself in as teenager. I actually felt a bit cold looking at it.


The fact that the result looked a bit like the work of the contemporary artist Christopher Wool dawned on me after the fact, but I made a conscious choice not to mind, and even that recognition somehow put both the old historical feeling the piece created, and any feeling of contemporary as necessary paradigm, into question somehow. That artistic originality was sacrificed to a sense of awful history.