Ian Rolls is about to start work on painting his largest blank canvas to date… a 1953/4 ex-US Army tugboat. The tugboat ‘Elektra’, which is currently moored in St. Helier’s Harbour, will be transformed into a Dazzle Ship to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War.
The design is an original scheme devised specifically for the ‘Elektra’ by Ian Rolls, who is well established as one of Jersey’s most experienced and versatile artists.
Ian’s concept is based on distorting form, a consistent theme in his work, so that the tugboat appears crumpled with strong linear elements, reinforcing the play of light and dark to create false planes. A single red line descends in a twisting spiral from the funnel, wraps itself around the vessel and dips below the waterline to merge with the solid red of the lower hull. The symbolism of sinking ships, but conversely the rising out of the red field of war to a higher place, is implicit. The design is an uplifting mark of remembrance for all those lost beneath the waves during the Great War.
I am hugely excited at the prospect of transforming what was a rusting tugboat into a Dazzling landmark for Jersey. It is difficult to imagine the full effect the Dazzle design will have once completed, but I am expecting it to make a few heads spin!
About the project
The project has been funded by the Jersey Arts Trust’s Great War Art and Community Fund. The States World War One Centenary Working Group granted the Fund to the Trust as part of the Island’s official commemorations of the centenary of the First World War. Jersey Arts trust will receive and distribute £10,000 a year, for the next three years, to fund arts and community projects that reflect on or commemorate the First World War.
Tom Dingle, Director of Jersey Arts Trust, said:
We’re delighted to be able to support Ian realise this visionary project. Art is a great way to reflect and explore a subject matter in more depth than we might otherwise do in our daily lives. We hope that beyond it being visually interesting in itself, the dazzle ship will become a physical reminder of the extents that our naval forces went to protect our interests and a symbol of the collective bravery, sacrifice and dare I say ingenuity, of all of our troops past and present.
We would encourage others who may have their own ideas about how to reflect and commemorate the Great War either through art or community activities to come forward and discuss them with us.
A little help from his friends
A group of Skipton Arts Series artists will be on hand to assist in painting the Elektra’s design. The work will be undertaken by a changing team of artists led by professional painter Matt Daly, who has undertaken a number of large-scale public murals. The team of artists include: Val Aitken, Kerry-Jane Warner, Ged Thebault, Carl Danby, Pippa Barrow, Lizzy Hill, Jools Holt, Gina Socrates, Maria Tarrant and Clare Ormsby.
The boat’s owner has already undertaken the preparation and priming of the vessel, in time for artists to begin work on the Elektra on Monday 20th April.
Dazzle camouflage was used extensively during the First World War as a means of making it difficult for the enemy to target ships accurately. The idea was not to hide the ships, but to paint them in such a way that their appearance was optically distorted, so that it was difficult for a submarine to rapidly calculate the course a ship was traveling on, it’s speed and to know from which angle to attack.
In 1917, following heavy losses of merchant ships to German submarines, the demand for dazzle camouflage increased. The marine painter Norman Wilkinson, who went on to become President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, first suggested the spectacular system of stripes and disrupted lines, to which he coined the term ‘dazzle painting’. The bold abstract patterns naturally attracted the attention of contemporary artists of the time; with Picasso claiming the Cubists invented it. British Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth supervised the application of dazzle patterning to hundreds of ships and painted a series of pictures on the subject.
Over 2000 ships were painted in this way, and although there was no proof during WW1 that dazzle helped ships avoid U-boat attacks, crews reported feeling safer serving on board dazzle vessels.