Friday, February 14, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Jan Gordon

Jan Gordon (1888-1944), née Godfrey Jervis Gordon, was a British author, artist, musician and lecturer. With his wife Cora (Turner) Gordon, he toured various countries, observing, writing, drawing and collecting folk music, in the course of which they called themselves "vagabond artists." There is a website about them called the Jan and Cora Gordon Pages.  There is also an online pdf biography, and a photo gallery.

In 1917, Jan Gordon served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), during which he worked at the Royal Academy with a small unit of camouflage designers, headed by Norman Wilkinson, on the development of "dazzle-painting" or dazzle ship camouflage. In 1918, he described all this in detail in an illustrated two-page article titled "The Art of Dazzle-Painting" in Land & Water (December 12, 1918), pp. 10-11 (see reduced page images above and below). The first page includes an illustration of a British ship, the Industry, which was purportedly the first ship to which camouflage was applied under Wilkinson's supervision. The second includes a photograph of a model of the dazzle-painted RMS Olympic.

The Gordons first visited the US in 1927, and, as part of an extensive tour, spoke on December 3 about "modern art" at the Carnegie Lecture Hall, at the invitation of the  University of Pittsburgh. The talk was reported the following day in the Pittsburgh Press (December 4, 1927) in an article titled SHOCKS IN MODERN ART USED UP, PAINTER SAYS: Nothing Left to Stir Public, Declares Noted Briton, Designer of Camouflage in World War. Gordon is quoted as saying—

The public may expect no new shocks for a long time. It can't shock. There is nothing left.

The Gordons are described in the article as "dyed-in-the-wool rovers…known for their wanderings as well as their art." They travel around the world, "acquiring something from each country," and can "now speak fluently eight languages." In addition, "they can play all the queer guitars of all the countries of their travels. They go about the country collecting native tunes."

Later, when Jan Gordon died in London in 1944, at the age of 61, an obituary in the Glasgow Herald (February 4, 1944) described him as having "used his combined knowledge of science and aesthetics to make important contributions to the design of dazzle painting on ships [during WW1]."

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