Hiding in Plain Sight – Camoufleurs of the 21st Century
The Big Tower, Camouflaged, Colin Moss 1943
Of the top ten most surveilled cities in the world, only two cities are outside China – Atlanta and London1. With an estimated 420,000 CCTV cameras operating in our capital city, we are “on camera” for much of the time – often unwittingly.
London based group The Dazzle Club2 brings together art, politics and activism to question and explore this “normalisation” of surveillance in our public spaces, through the use of dazzle camouflage techniques.
Since August 2019, the group has staged silent hour-long walks through different various parts of the city with each member decorating their face with anti-facial recognition patterns. Their ideas echo methods first developed by the camoufleurs of World War I and II and, more recently, CV Dazzle created by Adam Harvey3, an artist whose work explores the impacts of surveillance technologies.
Camoufleurs Hiding in Plain Sight
Colin Moss was part of the Camouflage Directorate from 1939 – 1943. Recruited solely from the foremost artists of their generation, the aim of the camoufleurs was the concealment of civilian installations, confusing “a pilot at a minimum of five miles distant and 5,000 feet up throughout daylight” using techniques such as dazzle.
“We’re hiding in plain sight,”
Emily Roderick “The Dazzle Club” 4
During his service in the Camouflage Directorate, Colin designed a number of camouflage schemes for installations such as Stonebridge Park Power Station, London. The key to “dazzling” is to break up the surface of the object whether it’s a power station or a face:
“You’re trying to obscure the natural highlights and shadows on your face. Cameras will reduce you down to pixels. They’ll pick up the bridge of your nose, your forehead, your cheekbones, your mouth and chin. So you have to flatten your face and obscure it.”
Georgina Rowlands “The Dazzle Club”5
The camoufleurs had similar aims, creating designs that featured disruptive patterns, in a range of colours, painted onto buildings. Their aim too was to break up forms and outlines, so objects were difficult to locate and detect even against a shifting background (ie when looking down from a plane).
The patterns consisted of a mixture of dark and light colours being painted next to each other. At power stations like Stonebridge (where The Cooling Tower was painted), the fuel was even changed to produce darker smoke that would contrast with its surroundings for “disruptive colouration”.
Stonebridge Power Station
21st Century Camouflage
Ultimately the Dazzle Club’s aim is not to fool the cameras and other surveillance technology in use on our streets. It’s about highlighting, through art, the creeping normalisation of surveillance in our towns and cities – to start a debate and make us aware of how ubiquitous this tech is.
“If someone steals your credit card, you can cancel it and get a new one … [but] most of us are not going to do plastic surgery to rearrange our identity.”
Scott Urban, designer of anti-facial recognition glasses “Reflectacles”
The Dazzle Club – Exploring surveillance in public spaces. Sign up to Dazzle Club’s newsletter if you’d like to receive details of the Club’s upcoming walks eepurl.com/gEGvnb.
Ipswich Art School Gallery, High Street, Ipswich, running till the 30th June.
An engaging mini-retrospective exhibition of the work of Suffolk artist Ken Cuthbert features as part of this year’s Ipswich Art Society annual exhibition (now in its 142nd year).
Back Garden in the Snow, 1972
Ken is a former President of the Society and teacher to many of the Art Society members, including this year’s winner of the Mayor’s Award, David King, whose work “Felixstowe Cranes” shows a shared interest with his teacher in the industrialised landscape.
Dykes, Canals, Rives and Beaches
One of Ken’s earliest memories was of a holiday as a young boy in Thorpeness in 1937 where “at the mere’s edge the water and grass were one. Thus, one of my recurring themes took root, in dykes, canals, rivers and beaches.” Featured in the exhibition are a number of works reflecting this, including a very recent oil “Royal Military Canal, Warehorn” painted in 2018 from an original conté crayon drawing produced in 1957, one of many versions of that drawing reflecting Ken’s fascination with this theme.
Royal Military Canal, Warehorn, 2018
Cor Visser and Dock-End
Working in Ipswich as a government inspector (Weights and Measures), Ken’s formal art training began in the early 1950s when he met Ipswich-based Dutch artist and tutor, Cor Visser. Ipswich Docks was where Cor Visser’s boat and studio were situated and Ken “felt a deep and immediate response” to the romantic dereliction of the Dock End of Ipswich Port. In the 1969 documentary “Painters in the Modern World”, Ken is shown walking through the run-down Dock End amongst “discarded metal, machines that die, to be revived in his imagination.”
“Dock-End Scrapheap” 1959, a large and complicated oil where lines and form come out of the chaos.
Certainly, the heavily industrialised dock area of Ipswich inspired many of Ipswich’s post-war artists, including Colin Moss whose “Ipswich from the New Cut” is owned by Colchester & Ipswich Museums.
For more information, click here.
Painters in the Modern World
Much of the work was (and still is) completed in Ken’s own studio usually from drawings made on the spot, (drawings that are “immaculate and worthy of exhibition” according to gallery owner Denis Taplin). The “Painters in the Modern World” documentary gives a fascinating glimpse of the artist at work.
British Film Institute (BFI) Player “Painters in the Modern World”
For Ken inspiration came not only from the Dock End, but from the wider industrialised landscape in Suffolk and beyond. A number of the works in the exhibition reflect this featuring everything from “tank traps and blockhouses on the Suffolk coast to harbour walls in the South … hard, brutalist shapes set in romantic landscapes.”
Part of the retrospective is devoted to Ken’s recording of the construction of significant buildings in the area such as the maternity block at Ipswich Hospital and a number of drawings detailing the construction of Sizewell A nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast.
Inspiration in Dordogne
In the 1980s Ken, and his wife Mavis, bought a cottage in the Dordogne, captivated by both the colour and the landscape of the area. Colin Moss, then art critic at the EADT, felt the move to France enhanced and intensified Ken’s use of colour, taking his work to a new level. As the owner of one of Ken’s paintings from this period, I wholeheartedly agree! The work, “Prieu Dieu”, enlivens the wall of my sitting room and never fails to delight the eye on even the most downcast day.
“Prieu Dieu” 1993, pictured with the artist Ken Cuthbert
Now in his 90th year, Ken Cuthbert continues to paint, exhibit and teach and this mini retrospective exhibition gives a just glimpse of the breadth of his work.
Ken Cuthbert’s retrospective continues at the Ipswich Art School Gallery until June 30th alongside Ipswich Art Society’s annual members’ exhibition. The exhibition features 275 paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures by Members, Friends and the general public, spread over both floors of the gallery.
Having been out of fashion and overlooked for several decades, perhaps not by artists but certainly by art schools and art dealers, drawing is once more being celebrated for its role at the heart of artistic practice.
Drawing is what makes art “tick”. It “includes three and a half quarters of the content of painting…drawing contains everything, except the hue” declared Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. In other words, its importance cannot be overstressed. This weekend’s Draw Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London is the first of its kind in the UK. Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, its aim is to encourage people to look at drawings “as more than pencil on paper”. And to ask the question “what is drawing in the digital age?”, says the Fair’s strategic director Jill Silverman van Coenegratchts.
“Less like a shopping mall, more like a museum”
Although the focus is on drawing, exhibitors were able to include related sculptures, paintings, photos, videos, providing the drawings were 70% of their offering. Undoubtedly, the 50 odd galleries were there to sell but the fair was intended to be more like a curated event. Jill Silverman van Coenegratchts “[the aim is] to create a space that feels less like a shopping mall, more like a museum”.
Draw Art Fair certainly offers a comprehensive look at drawing in all its aspects. The works of modern masters like Matisse, Kandinsky, Cocteau, Picasso, Moore are featured alongside contemporary artists such as Irene Lees. Lees extraordinary hand-written, researched “artwork-essays” are certainly like nothing I have seen before. Click here to view them on the Candida Stevens gallery website.
Draw Art Fair also features performance events such as Harald Smykla’s Movie Protocols – pictographic shorthand notation of films (utterly fabulous in my opinion!) and Simon Heijdens’s laser driven Water Drawings.
And alongside the individual gallery offerings, exhibits from international collections including an exhibition of drawings and sculptures by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi brought to my mind the work of local Suffolk sculptor Bernard Reynolds, who was also an accomplished artist and draughtsman.
Colin Moss’s own views on the importance of drawing came from his rigorous art school training in the 1930s. Then, students covered life and antique drawing, figure composition and measured perspective. The demanding Board of Education Drawing Exam was, for Colin, “a wonderful sort of basic grammar [and] was the basis of everything I’ve ever done since” (see below).
And this belief in the primacy of drawing was passed onto his students:
Here’s to next year?
So let’s hope the Saatchi Gallery’s Drawing Art Fair is not a one-off and that drawing is back in the limelight, where it belongs. For those unable to get to the fair this weekend, all the work is being shown on Artsy. To find all the related info and articles, click here. And do read Laura Cumming’s in-depth article from April’s Guardian on the absolute enduring joy of drawing.