kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

Going to war with a pencil*

Browsing through the images of the recent Climate Camp action at Ratcliffe-on-Soar I spied the shot below of an artist recording the event.


This got me thinking about the tradition of the war artist and whether activist circles have their own, respected artists who are documenting the war for the environment.

Of course there are many photographic records of war and protest but according to Kenneth Clarke (the chair of the War Artists Advisory Committee in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century), photography is unable to interpret the full scale of conflict: “the camera cannot interpret, and a war so epic in its scope by land, sea and air, and so detailed and complex in its mechanism, requires interpreting as well as recording’. I don’t entirely agree with this statement. For me reportage photography interprets through the act of selection by the photographer. What they choose to shoot and publish surely represents an act of interpretation.

The tradition of the war artist was born of various western governments’ desire for civilians to have a better understanding of war. My own understanding of war artist schemes is that because of the involvement of the government, the legitimacy of the art must be questioned from a propaganda perspective. Surely governments would only allow certain images to be seen by the public? An essay by Roger Tolson from the Imperial War Museum reflects on this situation. He says that artists were given freedom to choose what they recorded. I wonder though whether all of these works were shown to the public at the time, especially those that showed the true horror of war.

I am now on the hunt for more protest drawings, or field sketches if you will. I would love to see imagery that captures the immediacy and passion of the protest. I’ll post anything I find.

My friend and artist Deborah Kelly introduced me to Andrea Bowers who has drawn images of civil disobedience such as the one below which shows a group of women protesting at a nuclear power plant in California in the 80s. This drawing, however, appears to be drawn from a photograph rather than en plein air.


Andrea Bowers. Diabloblockade, Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, Abalone Alliance, 1981, 2003.


Although it doesn’t really fit the theme of art created at the time of war, this is so poignant that it is worthwhile including. Kseniya Simonova is an artist who won Ukraine’s version of America’s Got Talent. Simonova uses sand and a lightbox to paint interpret Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in WWII. If you haven’t watched this, I sincerely implore you to do so.

* Quote from Richard Johnson who recently spent two months in Kandahar with Canadian troops sketching and writing. You can read and see his sketches on the blog Postings from Kandahar.

Filed under: activism, art, protest, , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. kseverny says:

    this is a great choice of artwork

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Twitter Updates

Flickr Photos

%d bloggers like this: