May 16, 2021 | Andrew's Blog

Aeroplanes and lies

Bruce Vinall's 1989 acrylic and collage on canvas titled NINETEEN THIRTY NINE, the year of his birth and the year that Britain and Australia entered WW2. I see this as a psychological portrayal, which lays bare the infantile mindset that exists among personalities both within and without armed forces...

The painting depicts a downed aircraft in a WW2 dogfight from the perspective of a child's fantasy, perhaps inspired by tales of the Red Baron, who himself died on the wing; and cleverly portrays a somewhat lack of consequence. At first glance, reminiscent of the works of Roy Lichtestien and his "blam" and "wham" pop art, but here is something I feel is more interesting than a dot painting, no matter what interpretations are put on the dots. This painting always appears to me to be mono dimensional in much the same way that a child would daydream. Seen through all that exists of the author's aeroplane, the crosshair machine gun sights, which in this case have a passing similarity to a child's kaleidoscope, drawing the viewer to the painting. Rather than the torn shards of steel and jagged edges is a wing which appears to have been so cleanly removed, as if by a giant pair of scissors giving a sort of scrapbook informality, an effect contributed to by the brown paper collage in the explosion flash. The victims plane, painted in the effervescent blue of a little boy's imagination rather than the battleship grey of an actual fighter plane gives a sense of optimism to the degree that the engine and propeller appear ready to fly off in search of a new plane to call home rather than plummet painfully into the ground. The liquorice allsorts colour palette gives a comic book impression, with the black framework of lines performing a similar visual effect to the black slices in a bag of liquorice allsorts. The fantasy of killing a man no different from eating lollies to this seven year old.

Even that instinctive fear, one of the two we are born with; the fear of falling is somewhat alleviated here as the sky is rendered, still a sky but with sandy ochres and earthy textures; not sky enough to fall from and be hurt. The truth is however, that the cockpit is gone and so is the pilot.

Drawing perhaps too long a bow (uh oh more weapons talk) if one quarantines a section of the plane (fig 2) the silhouette of Sir Winston Churchill's V for victory sign, one of WW2's iconic images can be seen. Churchill's V for victory sign was the nautical symbol of a stricken ship with its broken masts in V formation on the deck informing aircraft of the need for assistance. Lord of the Admiralty, as was his father, Churchill knew this, as did Roosevelt to whom he was allegedly signalling. That the pilot of the downed plane was in need of assistance is obvious, but what of our shooters state of mind? NINETEEN THIRTY NINE appears in the mid-century room feature on this web site.

Bruce Vinall's 1973 untitled crayon and ink on paper approaches the subject of WW2 using the same palette of colours, only in much different proportions to present a far different perspective.

This time the brutality of war is present in all its ghoulish horror. The unstoppable tank grinds through the torment ahead of miniature soldiers carrying their middle ages shields in a form of anachronistic posturing, tiny; and out of scale as if to perhaps highlight the pointlessness of their existence. The insignia of the Royal Air Force, an aesthetic rhyme with the wheels of the tank, shines like a beacon, sitting under and protected by the biggest guns fittable into the picture, the guns breaking through the frame of this reality. If the war is won and the flag protected; then all that's left are flags and guns (oh yes and a tank). In the foreground lies the turmoil of what war leaves behind, and under it all is a symbol of the childhood cuddles and affection that many of us secretly cherish, the teddy bear (the real bear belonged to the artists daughter Simone) sits wrapped in barbed wire, still alive and staring in disbelief at the hooded corpse of what was a human being.

The contrast in these two works makes apparent the degree to which reality can be twisted in the reporting.

Mainstream media reports of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York are a definitive example of this. Many teachers claim that teaching the official version of the events of Sep 11th 2001 is not only embarrassing but compromises their credibility with students.

 

As a youth I was introduced to the music of Pink Floyd, and in particular the work of Roger Waters by my social studies teacher Mr Levrington. Pink Floyd's album The Final Cut (for Eric Fletcher Waters 1913 - 1944) and Waters solo album Amused to Death helped sow the seeds of what I believe is a healthy mistrust for Governments in regard to geopolitical issues, especially armed conflict, and a sense of obligation to investigate their claims. Mainstream media are increasingly being perceived as a tool for building support for unwarranted invasions and once wars are over, it is their reports, which form much of the history books. I was taught what my parents were taught; every country have their own version of what happened, and as very few students attend school in two different countries simultaneously, few issues arose. The biographies and conflicting versions were printed, but these could be discredited as the work of kooks or hearsay or their authors jailed (Julian Assange is perhaps a hero but no pioneer). With the internet providing unprecedented access to information, history students taught one version, may find a contrary set of bona fide documents online. Questions such as where did Adolf manage to borrow all that money, or where did he buy all that petrol? are answered on that violator of government propaganda (just ask the Chinese communist party) the internet.

 

Over the last 70 or so years the basic premise has remained the same, albeit with a few embellishments omissions and exaggerations; particularly by the entertainment industry. In the 21st century teaching the official version, whichever version that may be with equally credible but conflicting documents online can be problematic. For some the problem is solved by the insertion of a few pages regarding the role of others and several vehement denials. Some simply stop teaching it and let the war memorials tell a story. In 2020 the gulf between fact and media fiction regarding armed conflict is wider than ever.

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