This talk looks at the role of artists as camoufleurs – creating camouflage to hide, mislead and misdirect in times of war – and considers some of the influences their designs have had in times of peace.
Secrecy, suspicion and deception have always played their part in war. With the invention of long-range rifles in the late 18th century, soldiers needed to mask their presence, or even appear to disappear. Gradually the scarlet tunics of the ‘thin red line’ gave way to the dusty tan of khaki and – with the coming of the First World War – more than just men needed to be camouflaged.
With the advent of modern, abstract art, people began to think differently about how we see and perceive the things around us. Cubism played with breaking up the picture space – could such innovative ideas help disguise and deceive in the service of war? In this talk we’ll consider the background to the development camouflage and explore the ways in which artists helped the war effort in the two World Wars. From ‘dazzle camouflage’ for ships, to the hiding of airfields and power stations, we’ll see how artists such as Hugh Casson, Oliver Messel, Julian Trevelyan and Robin Darwin worked alongside the naturalists and illusionists to mislead and misdirect on the Home Front as well as overseas.
As well as exploring the work of these camoufleurs, we’ll look at their legacy. Camouflage patterns have appeared in haute couture and, while digital technology is now involved in creating effective military camouflage, some contemporary artists remain fascinated by its possibilities, using its forms and techniques to intrigue and surprise us.