Sand in the Apricot Jam is a visual arts project by New Zealand artist Rebecca Holden. The large scale paintings acknowledge the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles who fought in the Middle East campaigns of Sinai and Palestine, as well as Gallipoli, in WW1.
Rebecca’s grandfather John (Jack) Culleton was a trooper with the Auckland Mounted Rifles during this campaign. The exhibition has toured New Zealand since 2014 and will be exhibited at the museum of Rishon LeZion from October 2017 for approximately 6 months.
Limited Edition prints of these artworks are available. A Limited Edition print of the new painting to be exhibited for the first time in Rishon LeZion will be released mid-October.
Official Opening of Sand in the Apricot Jam in Rishon LeZion
On the 30th of October Sand in the Apricot Jam was officially opened by the Governor General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Redding and Mayor of Rishon LeZion Meir Nitzan. attended by New Zealand and Israeli dignitaries and invited guests.
At the event the NZ Defence Force Maori cultural group did a performance to honour the occasion and the men of the NZ Mounted Rifles. A friendship plaque was also unveiled to honour the connection between the Mounted Rifles and Rishon LeZion.
It was a wonderful event hosted by the Municipality of Rishon LeZion and the NZ Embassy to Israel as part of the WW1 100 year commemorations. I am so thrilled to have played a part in honouring the men of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles through this exhibition during this time of commemoration and remembrance.
Museum of Rishon LeZion exhibition opens to the public
Sand in the Apricot Jam opened to the public on the 19th of October for a tour group of approximately 170 people organised by the Australian Light Horse Association. They are in Israel for the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba (31st October) and made time to visit the exhibition.
An official opening for invited guests hosted by the Municipality of Rishon LeZion and the NZ Embassy will be held on the 30th of October. The exhibition will run for 6 months alongside another exhibition ‘Liberation, Tidings & Hope’ on the connection between the ANZAC forces and Rishon LeZion during ww1.
New work completed for Rishon LeZion exhibition
1 August 2017
I’ve been busy in the studio working on the new artwork to be exhibited for the first time at the Museum of Rishon LeZion in Israel. This new work will feature along side three of the other works from the original exhibition of Sand in the Apricot Jam.
The exhibition will open to the public mid October and run until the end of November. So if you are planning a trip to Israel to follow the trail of the ANZAC’s and to attend the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba add a trip to the Museum of Rishon LeZion to your itinerary.
The Paintings Explained
If you would rather make your own reading of the artworks that form Sand in the Apricot Jam read no further, just look at the pictures! But if you’re curious to the hear the artist’s explanation of the works then read on as I explain each panel and why I represented the things I did, in the way I did.
Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli/Being reunited with his horse in the desert (Panel1)
This first panel of ‘Sand in the Apricot Jam’ portrays the NZMR at Gallipoli and later a soldier being reunited with his horse on his return to Egypt. This interpretation of Gallipoli was activated by the research into the August Offensive of the Gallipoli Campaign, in which the NZMR and other troops were assigned the task of trying to capture the high ground of Chunuk Barr. The casualties endured in this offensive were great.
For those from the NZMR that survived Gallipoli and were well enough to fight again, were later returned to Egypt to fight against the Ottoman Turkish army in Sinai and Palestine.
Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli (detail Panel 1)
This is a composite view of the conditions and hardships of Gallipoli – the chaos, the exhaustion and pain. The rats and flies that terrorised the men almost as much as ‘Johnny Turk’ are also depicted in this scene. The injured soldier being assisted, makes reference to my grandfather who received a gunshot wound to his left thigh on the 7th of August during The August Offensive. The barges full of the sick and wounded await transport to the hospital ships.
The waterway that divides the two sections of this painting is the Suez Canal, which the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces were sanctioned to protect from potential attack by the Ottoman Turks.
Reunited in the desert (detail Panel 1)
This more calm scene, in contrast to the Gallipoli scene, aims to evoke a sense of the special bond between the soldier and his mount. The soldier having been separated from his horse whilst serving at Gallipoli is reunited with him back in the desert.
The white and red detail at the edge of the painting makes reference to the regimental patch worn by the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment.
The Sinai Campaign (Panel 2)
In the Middle East theatre of war the NZMR were involved in two major campaigns against the Ottoman Turkish army, in the Sinai and Palestine.
The Sinai panel depicts the sparseness of this desert environment. The horsemen were invaluable here, as they could cover greater ground than infantry on foot. Often riding at night so as to be undetected by their enemy.
Having enough water for the men and the horses was a constant concern in the harshness of the desert.
The Mounted Men (detail panel 2)
The Mounted Rifles were grouped in fours and when fighting they would ride to the battle, dismount and run in to fight, while one man remained with the horses. This depiction of the group of men on horseback uses cool tones to references the night reconnaissance work they did in the desert. Moving at night so as not to be detected.
Camels are indicated in this panel as they were invaluable for getting water and supplies to the troops. A railway and water pipeline were also constructed across the desert in order to service the troops, the railway line is referenced also.
Battle of Rafah (detail panel 2)
This blended scene of horsemen riding off to battle, a soldier carrying a wounded mate, and the men having had dug another grave; was inspired by the battle of Rafah. Rafah straddles the Sinai/Palestine border and was considered by the British as an important area to capture. It was a daring attack and was very nearly called off, but thanks to the Mounted Rifles Rafah was captured.
The Ottoman Turkish symbol (Crescent moon and star) is depicted in this panel to make reference to who the allies were fighting against in the desert.
The Palestine Campaign (Panel 3)
The British believed that in order to defeat the Ottoman Turkish Army it was essential for the allies to gain control over Ottoman held Palestine. By the end of 1918 the British lead Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), which included the NZMR, had conquered Palestine, Jordan and southern Syria effectively ending the war in the Middle East.
The three battles of Gaza (detail Panel 3
In 1917 there were three attempts by the allies to secure Gaza, the gateway into Palestine, from the Ottoman Turkish army. The first battle ended in failure and the allies sustained incredible losses. It was a bitter blow to the Auckland Mounted Rifles as they had actually captured Gaza when they were told to retreat – this first defeat exemplified by the stance and expression of the soldier on the left. The second battle of Gaza also ended in defeat and is represented here by the second soldier, his hand to his head.
After the failure of the second battle there was a change in leadership of the Desert Corps. More time was gained this time allowing for greater strategic planning for a further attack. In the final battle it was the Mounted’s task to secure the town of Beersheba and it’s critical wells, which is why the soldier is portrayed by his reflection in the well’s water. This time the allied troops in the desert were successful.
The Jordan Valley (detail Panel 3)
The battle of Megiddo was the final and most decisive battle of the Palestine campaign. The NZMR role in this was to remain in the Jordan Valley essentially as a decoy to convince the Ottoman Turks that the British offensive was aimed at the Ottoman line in the Trans-Jordan. When in fact allied troops were gathering to attack on the coastal sector of the Plains of Sharon. When the main assault was underway the Mounted troops were tasked with attacking Es Salt and Amman. Which were captured successfully by the New Zealanders.
Many men suffered from illness in this Middle East campaign of WWI and malaria was rife in the Jordan Valley. One soldier claiming the mosquitos there were as big as sparrows! The malaria carrying mosquitos are referenced in this panel. My grandfather contracted malaria in the Jordan Valley, this disease essentially led to his discharge in 1919 after having been at war since departing with the Expeditionary Forces in October 1914.
The bond of the ‘Mounteds’ (Panel 4)
The final panel of the Sand in the Apricot Jam series shows every day scenes of life for the Mounted Rifles in the Middle East campaign. This painting also addresses the final farewell of the solider and his horse.
Many of those who have written about the ‘Mounteds’ make reference to the special bond that existed in the New Zealand Mounted Brigade, not only between the men and their tight knit group of 4 but also between the soldier and his mount.
Camp Life (detail Panel 4)
Throughout the campaign in the Middle East the Mounted men either lived in tents or bivouacked while out on patrol or doing reconnaissance. The conditions were harsh in this environment but the men made do.
Flies were a constant nuisance and cause of illness and infection amongst the troops which is why they are referenced on this panel.
The patches of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (top left) and the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment (bottom middle – checkered pattern) are shown on this panel. The Auckland Mounted Rifles Regimental patch is shown in the first panel of this group of paintings.
The final farewell (detail Panel 4)
Only one horse returned to New Zealand from the Middle East. Some were either purchased by the British or sold to the locals. But that was not the fate for most of the horses. The soldiers, not wanting to sell their mounts to endure a harsh life with the locals, decided instead that it would be better to take the life of their trusty companion. Rebecca’s grandfather said there wasn’t a dry eye when the men had to shoot their horses. This portion of the painting addresses that moment of the final farewell between the soldier and his faithful horse.
The Battle of Ayun Kara, NZMR welcomed in Rishon LeZion
The battle of Ayun Kara (14 November 1917) was one of the most fierce battles of the whole campaign for the NZMR. Upon defeating the Ottoman Turkish army the NZMR entered the village of Rishon LeZion and were warmly welcomed by the people of the village.
This work is different than the others as it is on a canvas ground. The purpose of this is to represent the canvas tents the men bivouacked in. Sewn onto the canvas ground is 50 small NZ Forces buttons to represent the 50 who died in the battle of Ayun Kara. Larger NZ Forces buttons are also attached to represent the different squadrons of the NZMR.
The Battle of Ayun Kara (detail)
In the battle of Ayun Kara the NZ Mounted Rifles were severely outnumbered by the Ottoman Turkish army. But the Kiwi’s won the battle and the Ottoman Turkish Army retreated north. This scene represents the intensity of the battle. The NZ Mounted Rifles lost 50 of their men in this battle, the highest since the fateful Gallipoli campaign.
NZMR Welcomed in Rishon LeZion (detail)
This part of the painting shows the NZ soldiers, having entered Rishon LeZion, being welcomed by a group of children offering them Jaffa oranges. The soldiers camped just outside of Rishon LeZion for over a year after this encounter.
A monument was erected in honour the New Zealanders who died in the battle of Ayun Kara (top). The monument was maintained by the people of Rishon LeZion.
here was a woman living in Rishon LeZion who’s son was in the NZ Mounted Rifles. They were reunited after the battle of Ayun Kara.
– Updated October 2017
Crowdfunding target met!
Great news my Pledgeme crowdfunding campaign was successful! I reached my funding target so I can now cover the costs to send the exhibition from New Zealand to Israel for exhibition in October/November.
If you are interested in a Limited Edition print there are still a few copies available (limited to 10 only of each). Or if you’d like a set of postcards there are some available too, please contact me on the address on the poster here. Please note the prices are in NZD$ and there is an additional charge for international freight.
Please Help to Spread ‘Sand in the Apricot Jam’ WWI Artwork to Israel
I have been invited to show ‘Sand in the Apricot Jam‘ at the Museum of Rishon LeZion, Israel in November 2017.
The exhibition on the NZ Mounted Riflemen is scheduled to coincide with the centenary of 2 significant WW1 battles – but I need your help make it happen.
My PledgeMe crowd funding campaign is now live! Please check out my campaign and pledge towards a range of different rewards. It would be awesome if you could spread the word about it too! The campaign runs from 17 Feb – 28 March.
I am thrilled to have sponsorship from Innovative Travel for helping to fund getting this exhibition to Israel.
Waikato Museum hosts Sand in the Apricot Jam
If you are in Hamilton over the coming months be sure to check out Sand in the Apricot Jam at the Waikato Museum, March – June 2017
Artist Talk – August 2016
On Sunday 21st August I gave an artist talk at the National Army Museum in Waiouru, NZ. Where my work Sand in the Apricot Jam was being exhibited. It was great to be able to give the audience the background stories and historical references behind each of the paintings in this body of work.
I think art, and in my case painting, is a great way to open up the dialogue about past events. It can allow us to pay tribute to sacrifices made, and reflect upon the effects of these events on our families and our nation. We should never forget the great loss of life and the scaring that these events caused on so many souls.
As the artist of this work I brings me great satisfaction when people who have seen the work and/or have listened to me speak about it,come to me and share their own family connections to the First World War. I love that art can facilitate such sharing of stories.
This body if work is currently on exhibition at the National Army Museum, Waiouru NZ
– May to August 2016
To find out more check out this link: http://www.armymuseum.co.nz/whats-on/temporary-exhibits/thornton-gallery/
– From inception to installation | 2014
Sand in the Apricot Jam is a visual arts project by Rebecca Holden that acknowledges the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in WWI, particularly in the Middle East theatre of war. Their contribution at Gallipoli will also have a small representation in the artwork.
My grandfather, John (Jack) Culleton served with the 4th Waikato Squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles and was wounded at Gallipoli. He returned to serve with his regiment in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns until the end of the war.
The title for this body of work comes from my Grandpa’s distaste for apricot jam. You see he explained to my mum one day that he hated apricot jam because it reminded him of the rations from the war. The ‘sand’ in the title refers the desert conditions endured by the soldiers in the Middle East campaign.
The work, when completed, will consist of 4 large scale paintings (1.3 x 3m) representing different aspects of the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the conditions endured by the soldiers and their horses in this harsh environment. One of the panels will be created prior to the commencement of the exhibition in the Vector Gallery at Expressions Art and Entertainment Centre, while the remaining panels will be painted on site over the period 12 July 2014 – 7 September 2014.
After the exhibition at Expressions the work will be toured to different galleries and museums around New Zealand.
This is the journey of historical discoveries and the development of the artwork.
My grandpa ‘Jack’
It is really interesting looking back imagining your grandfather as a young man off on what many thought was to be their big adventure, a chance to travel and see the world. To me he was my grandpa who spent most of his day in his favorite chair, in my grandparents home in Berhampore Wellington. As a small child I would often get stuck behind him on his slow trek to the bathroom, and there was no getting past. I remember he smelt like Pears soap. I have fond memories of giving him a kiss when I went to visit and my soft child’s check getting scratched by his bristled chin. He always had a warm smile for his many grandchildren (there are 14) but he didn’t say much and he definitely didn’t speak of the war. He would never go to the ANZAC day parades, I think for him all that was best left buried in the past. Who can blame him not wanting to relive the war.
I wonder what he might think of Sand in the Apricot Jam. He would support my endeavors as a painter, but would he want the story of the Middle East campaign to be told in the strokes of my brushes? I don’t know.
But like those who have since written about this campaign, that went under the shadow of the greater battles being fought on the Western Front, I do this in honour of the men (and their trusty horses) who endured this campaign. The unforgiving conditions, the battle for water, the hostility of some of the local people, the flies, and disease that ravaged many of the men – let alone the battles fought.
I do this in admiration of their endurance and their resilience.
Grandpa’s army belt has almost legendary status amongst our family. I remember proudly taking it to school for show and tell. It has a collection of badges and pins that Jack swapped with other soldiers and tells a bit of a story itself of the different regiments who were serving in Sinai and Palestine.
Getting to know the horses
The men of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were invaluable in the desert conditions. They could travel much greater distances than regular infantry and were used for scouting and reconnaissance work as well fighting. They weren’t like cavalry in that they didn’t ride into battle on horseback (although on rare occasions this did occur), they operated in groups of 4 and would ride to battle then dismount to fight on foot. One of the group would hold the horses while the other 3 went into battle.
The Mounteds, as they were referred to, always put their horses first. The horses would be groomed, feed and watered before the men would attend to their own needs. There was a very strong bond between the men and their horses.
I wanted to try to understand this relationship. I also needed to be able to get up close with some horses, to spend time sketching them and watching how they interact. It is possible to sketch from photos but being in their company and being able to touch them helps you as an artist understand how the muscle groups work, how the hair and skin feels, how they move. Equally important how they might interact with me. these I felt were all important considerations for the development of the artwork.
Luckily a kind lady, Nicola Boland, who is local to me in Whitemans Valley lets me come and sketch her horses. Her knowledge of the different breeds and understanding of the history of horses in New Zealand has been invaluable to me. Through Nicola’s generosity I have spent many an hour so far watching the antics of her horses. Not having spent a lot of time with horses in the past it has been great watching how they interact and how they are just as curious about me watching them as I am watching them! One even likes to nibble on the corner of my drawing board when he thinks he deserves a scratch on his nose for his excellent modelling.
When the horses went from the lovely green pastures of New Zealand to the harsh environment of Egypt, which is where they landed first, it must have been a big shock to the system. Let alone the long journey on the ships transporting them there. Their condition was not good after many weeks at sea and they lost condition further until they got accustomed to the feed available to them. But they were hardy horses, resilient like the men who rode them.
The horses had never encountered other creatures like camels before and would readily get spooked by them until they got used to their company. The camels were used by the allies to transport water and also as a type of desert ambulance to evacuate the sick and wounded.
Panel 1 – Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli to the desert of Sinai
“…some of the men as soon as they dropped asleep woke screaming through shock; none were undressed – at least very few by that time. They were so dead beat we wrapped them in blankets in their filthy clothes poor fellows and let them rest. Faces shot away, arms, legs shots everywhere…” – Sister A M Cameron describing her encounters with the seriously wounded, days after the first landing on the 25th April 1915 at Gallipoli
I didn’t want to concentrate a lot of attention on Gallipoli in this project as I feel it is a campaign well addressed. But I wanted to acknowledge the New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) contribution (or should I say sacrifice) there. Technically it wasn’t part of the Middle East campaign but many of the soldiers of the NZMR Expeditionary Force who survived that dreadful campaign went on to fight in Sinai and Palestine.
For many New Zealander Gallipoli is contributed as an historical event that cemented New Zealand as a nation. Strangely so, in some respects, as it was such a disastrous campaign of the Great War and because it was on the shores of Turkey so far from home. But I understand how, from reading Terry Kinloch’s book ‘Echoes of Gallipoli’ that it was this distance from home and these conditions endured, that led to the New Zealanders identifying themselves as being somewhat different to their Australian and British counterparts.
The conditions at Gallipoli were horrendous. Not only did the men endure the constant sniper attacks but their time there was so dramatically contrasted by moments of shear boredom with the fear and exhilaration of close range fighting. They had to deal with difficult terrain, squalid trench conditions, and poor food – but the flies! Attracted by the multitude of dead bodies the flies came bringing with them disease as they flew from the decomposing bodies to the food the men were trying to eat. Many men succumbed to disease.
“They lived with the dead and dined with disease” – anonymous from a poem about Gallipoli.
The August Offensive, of which this panel refers to, was an attempt to end this dreadful campaign, according to the Australian War Memorial website:
“The August Offensive was the last major attempt made by the Allied forces at Gallipoli to break the stalemate that had persisted since the landings on 25 April 1915. The plan involved a series of thrusts being made out of the ANZAC position to seize high points along the Sari Bair range, which dominated the Gallipoli peninsula. These operations would be supported by several diversionary attacks along the existing ANZAC frontline.”
The offensive ended in many casualties being sustained. Jack was shot in the left thigh during this offensive on the 6th or 7th of August 1915. I wondered how on earth they got the wounded off the peninsula to the care they needed. The extra suffering the men had to go through as they were manhandled off the slopes of Gallipoli to the shores and on to the hospital boats. Eventually ending up in hospitals in Egypt, Malta, and Lemos as well as England and Australia. Great distances to be traveled for the sick and wounded.
The 1st panel starts to take shape
I like to build up my artwork with many layers of paint, some of the features you may see in these initial photos of the development may only just be evident under future layers of paint. I enjoy the idea that the work will have history under the layers, to me that adds to the visual narrative.
It was after my grandfather recovered from his injuries sustained at Gallipoli that he rejoined his squadron, and his horse, in the Sinai to go on to fight in this and the Palestine campaign. For this reason I decided to have this panel representing a transition from Galipoli to the desert as it seeks to acknowledge the differences in the two.
It’s been a busy week in the studio this week as the evacuation of the wounded takes shape on the first if the four panels.
I spend a lot of time pouring over historic photos and composing poses from images acquired from the internet. I was lucky enough to find some film footage of Gallipoli that we’d recorded off the TV years ago. Moving images offer just that little bit more than stills can, especially as photos can tend to be more posed than action shots. With the film footage I freeze the image and paint from that, I sometimes take pictures of these frozen stills on the television set to make this process a little easier!
This trawling over the images does come at a price as I’ve been moved to tears on a number of occasions, feeling like a witness to the slaughter of these young, and in the case of Gallipoli often inexperienced men. It’s strange I guess tears falling for those killed so long ago but you can’t help but imagine your own brothers, sons, in the figures you see fall before you. Lets hope lads I can do you a good service.
A little Gem from desert life
I found this little piece from a book ‘The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai and Palestine’ published in 1920 by Briscoe Moore of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and I just had to share this delightful bit of humour
While at El Arish, a “de-lousing” parade was held. These parades were held at odd times when opportunities offered, and were often most amusing. All of a man’s wearing apparel, and his blanket, would be put in big batches into a steam disinfector. There it would remain for about twenty minutes, when it would be supposed to be cleared of lice or other vermin — the writer one day heard a man remark that this treatment merely “refreshed them!” The steam disinfectors were either portable, or if on the railway, closed iron cars fitted with shelves and supplied with steam from an old engine.
On this day at El Arish, numbers of men had stripped, and were waiting in most airy attire beside their horses until their clothing should be “cooked.” Suddenly a “Jacko” aeroplane appeared, which shortly afterwards dropped a bomb not far from the disinfector. Then ensued a scene that baffles description, as men in all stages of deshabille, from a shirt to nothing at all, sprang on to their horses and scattered for their lives in all directions. It is perhaps superfluous to add that the humour of the situation was only appreciated afterwards.
To imagine how they suffered
I’ve been away overseas enjoying a trip through Europe with my family and on my return, in order to familiarise myself again with my Sand in the Apricot Jam project, I started reading ‘The Story of Two Campaigns, Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919‘, by C.G Nicol, 1921. The prose is poetic the accounts illuminating and often heart wrenching. I sat with tears rolling down my checks as I read the accounts of the devastating August offensive at Gallipoli. It was during this offensive that my grandfather Jack was shot in the leg, wounded like so many, so many, around him. I remember wondering, when I started researching for this project, how on earth they evacuated the wounded in such hostile conditions during that August offensive and the words that came from the book confirmed my worst nightmares. Nicol wrote:
“Rarely have men suffered as the wounded of those days suffered, particularly those who were helpless. Away up in the desolate ravines they had to lie until the over-worked stretcher bearers could carry them to the beach. Afflicted with thirst—not the parching thirst that heat and dust and perspiration produces, but the agonising thirst that follows bleeding wounds; the thirst that makes the tongue swell and fill the mouth, that thirst that fills the body with the fire of hell, the thirst that makes men mad. Nor was thirst all. There was the burning pain of open wounds, the torture of the flies around them, the constant fear of again being struck. How awful it is to lie helpless and wonder where the next shell will land!”
It is impossible for me to appreciate what that must have been like I can only imagine, and then for the wounded, if they survived, to hear that their efforts were all in vain. Nicol goes on to quote this passage from John Masefield’s book ‘Gallipoli’ to illustrate the bitterness that must have been felt by these solders
“They went, like all their brothers in that Peninsula, on a forlorn hope, and by bloody pain they won the image and the taste of victory; and then, when their reeling bodies had burst the bars, so that our race might pass through, there were none to pass; the door was shut again, the bars were forged again, all was to do again, and our brave men were but the fewer and the bitterer for all their bloody sacrifice for the land they served.”
Nicol ends with “But it was never done again. The door was shut and kept shut, until it was opened by the destruction of the whole Turkish Army in Palestine years later. Only the mounted rifles regiments, of the N.Z.E.F., shared in that final victory against the foe that barred the way on the bloody crests of Gallipoli.” The enormity of this hadn’t fully registered with me, until reading that passage, that Jack and his fellow Mounted Riflemen got to see it through to this bitter end with this enemy. Not sent to the Western Front to fight against the Germans like many Kiwis did, but having returned to the Middle East they followed through fighting the same enemy, the Ottoman Turks, to finally appease the losses of their brothers at Gallipoli. I wonder if he saw it that way, I’d be inclined to think he did.
Panel 1 Takes shape
As the exhibition fast approaches I’ve been beavering away in the studio getting the first panel ready to go, so why not share it’s development I thought. It’s really satisfying to bring together in paint the things I’ve researched.
The Artist’s Residency at Expressions Arts and Entertainment Centre, Upper Hutt, NZ
Between July 12th and 15th August I was artist in residence at Expressions working on Sand in the Apricot Jam.
It must have been a rather worrying sight for the Director and Curator of the gallery to have an artist turn up with only one of the four 3m panels complete and with only the assurances of the artist that it will all be finished within the month! But if they were concerned they didn’t let on and left me too it.
Creating the work onsite offered quite a different way of working in that not only could I work on all of the panels at the same time, I could also stand back from them, view them from multiple angles, sneak up on them as a whole and see how they are coming together as a body of work. I could judge how they would operate together in their final state of installation.
There were those initial teething problems of talking too much and not getting much painting done! But that was why I was there, I wanted to share my research and my process and hear others stories – so it was about finding a balance.
I still maintained my artistic process of combining drawing and painting from life, with working from photos. I was my usual magpie self, grabbing bit’s from many resources to create a single figure. The expression of the face and body and the relationship between man and horse were pivotal to the success of the work so it was important to scourer many resources to find the right look.
Each of the panels have a couple of layers of gesso over the paper to stop the paper absorbing the oil paint. But often I would leave areas that were just the bare paper as I like to pay recognition to the surface I work on and the paper is a nice tone of brown too. In the Sinai Panel I had left the crosses depicting a grave site in Rafah as the untouched paper surface.
This soldier was derived from an image I had sourced from archives of the Middle East theatre of war of WWI, I chose to use it as even in the dusty desert some men still looked quite dapper. One visitor wondered if perhaps someone might recognise him from a family photo, I liked that idea.
One of the things that seemed to flummox many of the people who came to visit was the jackal I featured in the panel about the Palestine Campaign. Not the fact it was featured at all but because it was upside down. It is not unusual for me to depict things upside down in my work for many reasons. On this occasion the jackal was painted upside down to represent an abstract idea of the strangeness of the experience of a tired soldier returning from reconnaissance work, or returning from battle, at night and hearing the eery sound of the jackals howling not knowing quite where the sound is coming from.
It was really important for me to represent the importance of water in the Middle East campaign because it made the difference between battles won and lost. Without it man and horse could not survive. The Desert Mounted Corps (of which the Mounted Rifles were part of) role in the final battle of Gaza was to secure the wells in the town of Beersheba which is why I chose to depict the importance of water in this way.
I wanted to leave the back section of the horse as the sketchy underdrawing as if the horse is fading away. This is because this section of the painting that shows the horse walking towards the soldier references the moment of departure. The horses were not to return to New Zealand and the men were reluctant to sell their trusty steeds to the locals believing they would be treated badly, so most chose to shoot them instead. This shows that moment before, the hose knows something is up, the soldier knowing what he must do. My grandfather said there was not a dry eye when the men had to shoot their horses.
My depiction of this inevitable act was inspired by the song by Eric Bogle, ‘As if he knows’ and the lyrics from this song go as so:
It’s as if he knows
He’s standing close to me
His breath warm on my sleeve
His head hung low
It’s as if he knows
What the dawn will bring
The end of everything
For my old Banjo
And all along the picket lines beneath the desert sky
The Light Horsemen move amongst their mates to say one last goodbye
And the horses stand so quietly
Row on silent row
It’s as if they know
Time after time
We rode through shot and shell
We rode in and out of Hell
On their strong backs
Time after time
They brought us safely through
By their swift sure hooves
And their brave hearts
Tomorrow we will form up ranks and march down to the quay
And sail back to our loved ones in that dear land across the sea
While our loyal and true companions
Who asked so little and gave so much
Will lie dead in the dust.
For the orders came
No horses to return
We were to abandon them
To be slaves
After all we’d shared
And all that we’d been through
A Nation’s gratitude
Was a dusty grave
For we can’t leave them to the people here, we’d rather see them dead
So each man will take his best mate’s horse with a bullet through the head
For the people here are like their land
Wild and cruel and hard
So Banjo, here’s your reward.
It’s as if he knows, he standing close to me,
His breath warm on my sleeve, his head hung low.
As he if he knew.
Copyright Eric Bogle July 2001, reproduced with the permission of Eric Bogle
The Lighthorsemen are the Australian Lighthorsemen who the NZ Mounted Rifles fought beside.
My residency at Expressions was a wonderfully rewarding experience. The team at Expressions were incredibly supportive. Many people enjoyed coming back to see how the works had progressed, quite a few coming back a number of times over the month. People would generously put me onto books they had read they thought might be of interest to me. Visitors were so generous with their words of support and admiration. Many shared personal stories from their own families experiences of the First World War, from the boot maker employed at Trentham Army Camp to the great uncle who had half his face blown off in the Western Front only to survive then be sent back when recovered, the family of 8 brothers that all went to war and only 1 surviving. Then so often the conversation would fade off to “…but we never learn do we”.
This residency has facilitated the opportunity for me to share what I have learned about the Mounted Rifles and I believe, has also enabled me to honour their memory both with the public process of creating the works to the finished works themselves.