The Art of World War One
World War I fascinates me, mainly because my main field of study, Futurism and Dada, came around the war’s early beginnings. When I first learned about it during my undergrad years, my professors presented this as this awful prologue to World War II. The use of technology came into its full bloody bloom when this war started.
Artist George Pratt’s book, No Man’s Land: A Postwar Sketchbook of the War in the Trenches, focuses on the people. However, this book provides a caveat: the artist never saw World War I himself. Furthermore, he took inspiration from the homeless that lived around Brooklyn. His portraits of people keeps the viewer at a distance. The subjects either keep their backs towards you, or their faces remain obscured. Especially the eyes. The eyes of these people stay under the shadow of their helmets, and when Pratt does show them, it will jar you. Made up of monochromatic ink that varies from either lines or thick shapes that have this wet look, these monotype prints capture nameless lost souls. The lines and shapes give an emotional depth that reveals the damaged psychological states of each characters, even when Pratt draws his subjects with their backs turned away from us. When Pratt uses color, it still looks washed out and bleak. People that came from both research, homeless people, and Pratt’s imagination. Simple blank backgrounds give a depth to the slice of life scenes soldiers either fighting, waiting for the next battle, injured, or dead. The occasional civilian shows up, but soldiers dominate the anonymous cast. Blimps and light aircraft act as tools of death in these scenes. Portraits of people with gas masks turn them into mindless demons, doling out death.
The book sprinkles quotes of people who lived during this time either used in an ironic fashion, show people’s shock, or used to reveal people’s quiet rage over what the war hath wrought. One of my few critiques comes from when Pratt adds dialogue balloons to his characters. It breaks up this contemplative mood that builds up in the book. Furthermore, I think I found a typo in one of the quotes.
My opinion? Pratt created simple, but utterly beautiful and devastating at the same time.