The Old Soldier – A mosaic for the anniversary of the First World War
I wanted to create a work on the theme of war and in particular a mosaic for the anniversary of the First World War, but how to do it? Looking through old archive material and reading some of the many poems which that war produced I was struck by the contrast. Contrasts between the often harsh, vital poetry and the very still, silent and sepia, posed photographs of the trenches. I wanted to echo this distance reflected in the photos with that cutting reality of the poems. I decided to use one of those silent photographs as the basis for the work and what better way to make that image than from rock and clay, the very stuff of the trench.
Why a mosaic? Is a question I always try to ask myself when embarking on a new work. This time the answer came swiftly… Shrapnel… those deadly tiny shards that fly through the air, what is a mosaic but a image made from a thousand shards? So I decided to use the bright, clean colours of Venetian Glass Smalti to act like flying shrapnel, cutting through the air. The glass colours representing sky, sunlight and fauna until they cut through the soldiers image and turn blood red.
War is a gun with a worker at each end
The works title is “Shrapnel 1914 – War is a gun with a worker at each end”. Whilst the first part obviously refers to the connection between the WW1, shrapnel and mosaic, the second part echoes the call of many socialist objections to the war. They saw the conflict in class terms and acknowledged that they had more in common with their fellow German workers than those generals who would send them to fight.
A meeting of old soldiers and the story of the last Lancers charge
After the mosaic was completed I displayed it at ‘The Landscape Show’ in Battersea Park in London. It was there that the work caught the eye of Jack, a Chelsea Pensioner. Jack was a former member of the Lancers Regiment. Though of course too young for the First World War himself, he recounted how he had recently attended a very special ceremony in France to commemorate the last time the Lancers Regiment cavalry charged another lance regiment on 7 September 1914 at Moncel in France. The action was one of those markers of change, from the old ideals of warfare stretching back to the medieval period, to the new mechanised war of the modern era.
The journey across the Somme
The next stop for the mosaic was the famous ‘Les Recontres Internationales de Mosaîque’ exhibition in Chartres. This is one of the premier exhibitions of mosaic art which I was lucky enough to be selected for. And so I found myself transporting the mosaic across the fields of the Somme which form so much of the car journey from the ferry terminal at Calais to the City of Chartres. You can’t help looking across those fields and thinking of that dreadful war.
The Prix Picassiette 2014 award
After delivering the mosaic I was thrilled to find that the work was hung right in the middle of the former Chapel where the exhibition took place, amongst such wonderful mosaic artworks. The exhibition, which ran from 18th October to 9th November 2014, culminated with the presentation of the Prix Picassiette, and I was very honoured to receive the 2nd Prize in the Public Vote section of the awards.