Artwork archive: Poppy Fields


Back in the centenary years of World War I, fields of poppies were a running motif of the many lives lost.

Being old enough to have known soldiers who fought in that war, it holds a place in my mind that is both comforting and disturbing.

During the centenary years, the Imperial War Museum released a series of archive recordings, Voices of the First World War, which was later broadcast by the BBC.

These voices painted an honest and often funny portrait of the soldier’s life during 1914-18 in a way no written version of events ever could.

I listened to these stories obsessively. I was still in rehabilitation after a brain injury. I’m sure I too saw myself as having “been in the wars” and I hoped then to continue my recovery with the same dignity and good humour as those young Tommies.

That is the background to these two images. They both use juxtaposition, a habit I have continued in my artworks. The first hides a weapon of war – in this case a WW1 rifle – in a field of peace, tranquility, colour and beauty.

The second image again uses the poppy field as a symbol of peace, but this is the peace of sleep. It is a Tommy’s dream in which Toulouse Lautrec’s Woman Putting On Her Stocking arrives stage left to turn the peace into bliss.

I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about the 1914-18 war. I just bought a tattered book of scenes drawn by WW1 soldiers, and a similar book of woodcut prints. No, I won’t forget, mainly because I don’t think I want to.

More from the Artwork archive.

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