Tower of London ceramic poppies

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.

Margaret Thatcher emerging from post-apocalypse nuclear bunker

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.

Illustration using photograph of skeleton of dead First World War soldier in uniform as reference

Fox skull photo

fox-skull-chris-madden-1818

Here’s a photo of a fox’s skull that I took recently.
Nice abstract sculptural quality I think.
I expect the fox would be very pleased to know that its head had been put to such worthwhile use.

Like most of my images on this site, if you want to use the image please contact me, as the images can’t be used without payment. Thanks.

Capturing the Difference Between Sunshine and Shadow on Video

For a long time I’ve been interested in the way that the landscape is transformed by the effects of sunshine and shadows, and by the way that we often hardly notice the extent of the difference between the two (other than by a general feeling of pleasure when the sun brightens things up – here in cloudy Britain anyway). The scene filmed here in the grounds of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, hopefully captures some of the transformational effect of sun and shadow as the sun emerges from behind a cloud (and then goes in again).

The various people in the background add a surreal air to the whole scene.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall Installation: Crocus Carpet

The new Tate Turbine Hall installation by Ai Weiwei reminds me of a Tate Turbine Hall installation of my own invention – an installation that has never actually existed in real life, being a conceptual piece that exists purely as a figment of my imagination and as a few photographs. One of the photos is shown below.

Like Weiwei’s installation my concept is a very low-lying piece of work, made out of a very large number of similar elements. The elements in my work are not artificial sunflower seeds though, they are flowers.

The installation is called Crocus Carpet and it consists (as you can hopefully see in the photo below), of the whole floor of the Tate Modern turbine hall being turfed over and planted with crocuses (apart from the pleasant pathways between the flowers).
Art is often concerned with questioning one’s perceptions, and that’s exactly what this work does. The sensation of strolling through what feels like an area of parkland that’s actually inside a huge cathedral-like industrial building is hopefully unsettling and disorientating. The installation would include specially installed benches on which people could sit and admire the flowers.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall installation - Crocus Carpet
Tate Modern Turbine Hall installation: Crocus Carpet

Crocus Carpet doesn’t only make you question your perceptions by virtue of the fact that it’s an outdoor space that’s been transported indoors – it also does so because the crocuses aren’t crocuses at all. Here’s a close-up photo of them.

Some of the crocuses in Tate Modern’s Crocus Carpet

That’s right. They’re not crocuses. They’re darts.

Here’s how the parts of the darts correspond to the different parts of a crocus.

A crocus from the Turbine Hall’s Crocus Carpet

The installation explores concepts of reality, illusion, perception and deception by utilising the dissonance arising from the similarity in appearance and the contrast in nature between crocus flowers and darts.
In other words, it’s meant to be something about the difference between the soft nature of the flowers and the hard, aggressive nature of darts.