'A Wood in France' depicts Mametz Wood near the River Somme in northern France.
In July 1916 Mametz Wood was the scene of a fierce battle between British and German forces. Over a period of 5 days of intense close quarter fighting, the Welsh Division suffered nearly 4000 casualties as they struggled to prise the well-defended wood from its German Defenders.
Amongst those wounded in the battle was the artist, writer and soldier, David Jones (1895-1974). The experience was stay with him for the rest of his life and after the war the battle became the setting for the climactic scene in his literary masterpiece 'in Parenthesis'.
When I was asked to produce a piece of artwork to accompany a WW1 related touring performance called 'Journey Through Conflict - From Then Until Now', I found myself turning to David Jones for inspiration and I began forming an idea to make Mametz Wood the subject of my artwork. With a copy of 'In Parenthesis' in hand I headed for France and exactly 102 years after David Jones had fought his way into the wood I stood there and contemplated what had taken place there. Needless to say the experience was a profound one for me as I tried to imagine the battle.
As I planned the artwork I considered trying to draw the battle or the shattered state of the wood after the battle but in the end I decided to depict exactly what I saw - just an ordinary wood in France and to share with the audience, as well as I was able, a sense of what it felt like to be in that space with it's ghosts and echoes of the battle.
Before leaving Mametz I gathered some branches from the wood and some earth from the area of a German trench. When I returned to my studio in Exeter I used the earth to make pigment for painting and the branches to make charcoal for drawing. The entire artwork is produced from these elements.
'On Parade' was commissioned by the wife of a friend who had been together with me in training at Sandhurst.
The couple had seen the short BBC News film featuring 'Testimonial' - a sculptural piece about the death of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, a mutual colleague and friend. With my friend's 50th birthday looming, she asked me if I might consider producing a piece for him.
Naturally, I leapt at the opportunity but I didn't want the piece to have the same melancholy feel as 'Testimony; I wanted it to be of happier memories and so I focussed on a particular day in April 1992 when Steve, I and 24 others marched out onto the Royal Military Academy parade square as officer cadets and departed it proudly as newly commissioned officers in the British Army.
We are all portrayed as moths in the piece - in blue to reflect the uniform 'blues' we wore that day. All of us who passed out are represented. The sharp eyed amongst you will spot that Numbers 210 and 227 are missing. This is because these 2 individuals started in training with us but one dropped out and the other graduated later.
The moths are made from moulded cast model makers metal in exactly the same way that lead soldiers would be made and painted with Humbrol model makers enamel. The moths are mounted in a box frame behind glass (removed for the photography.
Our Platoon commander is present at the front of the parade while the Platoon Colour Sergeant keeps a watchful eye on us from the rear.
The gap in the third row reflects the conventional manner in which a body of men forms up on parade when one of their number is missing.
The numbering of main body of men shows the individual number of the rifle allocated to each man whilst the Platoon Commander and Colour Sergeant are marked with the radio callsigns for their respective positions in 2 Platoon.
The antenna of each moth is painted (as closely as I could get) to the colours and patterns of the regimental ties of the regiment that each individual passed out into. Months later, many of of these units were disbanded or amalgamated under Options for Change but on that day we were still firmly wedded to our original units.
The stepped white inner frame reflects the white steps that all cadets march up into Sandhurst's Old College at the end of the parade (4 steps, a flat section and then 5 further steps). Traditionally the college adjutant rides a white horse up the steps and the cadets march up behind him, cheering and throwing their hats into the air as soon as they are out of sight of the families, friends and VIPs watching the parade.
Finally, when thinking how to finish off the frame I decided there was only one way - highly polished with black Kiwi boot polish! I'm sure this will bring back happy memories for all of the countless cadets who endured hours of polishing whilst at the Academy!
I was delighted to be invited to talk to GCSE english students on the topic of power and conflict and to describe how I deal with these subjects in my art work. Using my personal experiences as a professional soldier I also attempted to explain what I though the writers were getting at in their poems. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt honoured to get the opportunity to talk to such a bright and engaging group of students. My thanks to english teacher Rosie Fawbert Mills for the invitation. Read the college post here.
A long term display of some of the larger works and a display illustrating simple methods for producing multiples - dry point etchings and slip cast porcelain sculpture. Thanks to Clive Adams of The Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Natural World (CCANW), Kym Dyer of Exeter University Innovation Centre and Naome Glanville of Exeter University Arts and Culture for facilitating.
The exhibition can be seen on weekdays from 9am-5pm (closed bank holidays and University closure days). For those interested in visiting, the Centre boasts and excellent cafe.
A major project for 2017 into 2018 is to work as Artist in Residence with Devon Wildlife Trust in order to draw attention to their great work and, in particular, to highlight the 50 or so nature reserves they manage. Much of the work, therefore, will be landscape rather than wildlife, but I have enjoyed producing a few smaller pieces based mainly on birds I have encountered on my travels and these formed the basis of my show at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital earlier tis year. No doubt I will produce some more wildlife work as the project develops but I really want to capture the essence of some of the amazing sites managed by the Trust which range from coastal sand dunes to the moors and will include waterways, meadows, quarries and woodland.
One of my aims for this project is to do a bit more 'en plein air' work. Inevitably, because quite a high degree of realism is required to get the results I want for my major pieces I will still be working hard on my photography and developing work in the studio but working in situ does force me to observe in a different way and it's also great to be working outdoors.
See the artworks here.
A great fun day for all ages organised by Exeter University's Arts and Culture Department. Ably assisted by daughters Charlotte & Lily and girlfriend Jen, I provided blank cards with pre-printed designs and coloured inks enabling the participants to design their own coloured flying insect cards.
I'm delighted that my photograph 'Penguins' was selected for the Observatory open show at Exeter University.
I took this photo at Kandahar Airport in 2007. The signpost seen was erected by a Danish military unit. I was interested by the mix of poignancy and soldiers' humour. I had to look up the 'Pingviner; when I realised it meant 'penguins' I couldn't help but laugh out loud - there, in the baking heat of the desert it was beautifully ridiculous!
Richard Rochester is a UK artist who lives and works in Exeter in the south west of England