I’m very interested in the sea of ceramic poppies that fill the moat of the Tower of London at the moment as a commemoration of the First World War.
My interest is partly professional, as the work has a few superficial similarities to a concept of my own – a sea of crocus flowers made out of darts. You can see the concept here.
I’m particularly interested in the controversy that’s currently raging in the pages of the Guardian newspaper (for which I used to work as an illustrator/cartoonist/graphic artist) about whether the poppies are a fitting comment on the horrors of war or whether they are a soft sentimental exercise in remembrance-lite.
Personally I like the poppies very much, and it’s my feeling that Jonathan Jones in the Guardian has misinterpreted their purpose.
The poppies aren’t, I think, meant specifically as a criticism of war – they are meant as a commemoration of the members of the services who died during the war.
Jones’s suggestion that a better statement about the war would have been made by filling the moat with barbed wire and bones instead of poppies is, I think, a bit like stating that gardens of remembrance and war memorials around the country should have their flowerbeds dug up and replaced with mud and skulls and that the wreaths laid on Remembrance Day should be constructed out of that very same barbed wire that he mentioned.
There’s definitely a place for the type of anti-war art that Jones suggests, but I don’t think that the centrepiece of remembrance is it. Jones is perhaps worried that the popularity of the Tower poppies is turning the poppies into a “Princess Di” event, encouraging people to gather together and indulge in falsely heightened emotions (as they did on the death of Princess Diane). Actually, come to think of it, I’d be with him on that one.
Jones mentioned in his Guardian article that he thought that the horrors of war are best conveyed through such means as the photograph of a dead soldier that was used as the cover of an edition of a book about the Great War by historian A J P Taylor, titled The First World War. I’m totally in agreement with him here – to the point that I actually used the same photograph, showing a twisted skeleton in a soldier’s uniform, as reference material for an illustration of my own about war (or more specifically about the threat of increasing nuclear armaments in the 1980s during the Reagan/Thatcher years). The photograph is, I think, one of the most poignant anti-war images that I’ve seen. My illustration appeared in the London listings magazine Time Out when it was a radical leftwing publication (and I liked to think of myself as a radical leftwing cartoonist).
Here’s my version of the image.
Here’s a detail from the image, showing the figure that is based on the photograph of the skeleton of a dead soldier in uniform.