Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Camouflage at Chicago CAA

This year's annual conference of the College Art Association will be held in Chicago. Among the scheduled sessions is Art after Camouflage, organized by Ann Elias and Tanya Peterson, both from the University of Sydney. Featured talks and participants are: Sonja Duempelmann (University of Maryland) on Invisible Landscapes: Camouflage and Contemporary Landscape Architecture; Stephen Monteiro (American University of Paris) on Designing Men: Andy Warhol's Camouflage and Patterns of Masculinity; Amy Bryzgel (University of Aberdeen) on Camouflaging the East: Vladimir Mamyshev-Monroe and the Post-Soviet Russian Identity; Rob Silberman (University of Minnesota) on The Storm Trooper's Smock: Ian Hamilton Finlay and Camouflage; and Craig Peariso (Boise State University) on The Insistent Visibility of Disappearance. The session will take place on Friday, February 12, 2010, at 6:30-9:00 pm, at Columbus AB, Gold Level, East Tower at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. More

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ghost Army Camouflage

Some years ago, artist Dennis Bayuzick, a friend who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, sent me the complete set of fifty US postage stamps, called Birds and Flowers of the Fifty States (issued 1982). I've held on to them all these years, never suspecting that they were co-designed by illustrator and World War II camoufleur Arthur Singer and his son Alan. (There is an online interview with Arthur and Alan Singer about the stamps at this YouTube link.) It was the elder Singer who also illustrated a well known bird identification book (of which I have long owned a copy), titled Birds of North America, as well as twenty other books. During the war, he was a member of the Ghost Army (603rd Engineers Battalion), a top-secret deception unit. Author and filmmaker Rick Beyer is currently working on a film that will document the achievements of that military unit, including such famous participants as fashion designer Bill Blass, artist Ellsworth Kelly, illustrator Arthur Shilstone, and photographer Art Kane.

Camouflage Poem | Wilcox

One of a number of popular poems that were first published during World War I, this one by American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (c1919)—

Camouflage is all the rage.
Ladies in their fight with age,
Soldiers in their fight with foes,
Demagogues who mask and pose
In the guise of statesmen—girls
Black of eyes with golden curls,
Politicians, votes in mind,
Smiling, affable and kind,
All use camouflage today.
As you go upon your way,
Walk with caution, move with care;
Camouflage is everywhere!

Your Head Is Where Your Stern Is

During World War I, when it was first proposed that British ships should not be inconspicuous in appearance but should instead be covered in bold, abstract, geometric shapes—called "dazzle painting" or dazzle camouflage—some naval officers objected. In one case (as quoted, without attribution, in Nicholas Rankin, A Genius for Deception (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 131), a camouflage officer replied as follows—

The object of camouflage is not, as you suggest, to turn your ship into an imitation of a West African parrot, a rainbow in a naval pantomime, or a gay woman. The object of camouflage is rather to give the impression that your head is where your stern is.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Camouflage Artist | Richard Meryman

From Richard S. Meryman, Jr., "Richard Sumner Meryman—For the Love of Painting" at the Monadnock Art website—

In 1916, Wig [Richard Sumner Meryman] joined the World War Ambulance Corps, bringing wounded from the front to French hospitals. When America entered the war in 1918, he transferred as a lieutenant into the Camouflage Corps, which was among the first units in France… [As a camoufleur] He was applying the principles he had helped illustrate in Abbott Thayer's 1909 book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, the culmination of Thayer's obsession with the natural world. This book, adapted to uniforms and equipment, made Thayer the father of military camouflage.

[Note: Richard S. Meryman, Jr., appears in several interview clips, in which he talks about his father's association with Abbott Thayer and his camouflage research, in a documentary film titled Invisible: Abbott Thayer and the Art of Camouflage (PRP Productions), available as a dvd. Click here for an online roster of other camouflage artists.]

Comedy as Camouflage

Rodney Dangerfield, quoted in Joe Garner, Made You Laugh (Andrews McMeel, 2004), p. 72—

Comedy is a camouflage for depression.

Brute Camouflage

From George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (NY: Oxford University Press, 1975)—

At every level, from brute camouflage to poetic vision, the linguistic capacity to conceal, misinform, leave ambiguous, hypothesize, invent, is indispensable to the equilibrium of human consciousness.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Camouflage at MIT

From "Camouflage Apparatus at MIT" in Technology Review. Vol XXI (1919), p. 321—

On the second floor of Building One [at MIT], there is one of the most complete camouflage sets in this country. The apparatus, drawings, and models came from Washington, New York, and Boston. After the signing of the armistice, Mr. Blume proposed to give the results of the research done by the Navy Department and the Emergency Fleet Corporation to Technology. He sent the camouflage theater, models and other apparatus. Mr. William A. Mackay contributed to this set many models designed in New York. A complete assortment of the results obtained and of instructions is also due to the kindness of Mr. Mackay…

Professor Peabody invites anyone interested to visit the camouflage room. The visit must be made under the personal supervision of Professor Peabody, so only one or two are asked to come at one time.

[According to MIT, the current location of these artifacts is unknown.—RB]

Rudolf Arnheim's Cat

Gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim in Parables of Sun Light (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 91—

Our black cat lay on the window sill, against the black night outside. When his eyes were open, his body was visible, dimly outlined; but as soon as he closed them, the whole cat vanished, leaving only the unbroken darkness of the window.

Gertrude Stein on Figure-Ground

Gertrude Stein, in a letter to Carl Van Vechten in late August 1923, as published in Edward Burns, ed., The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten (NY: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 86-87—

Others have tried to make background foreground, but you have made foreground background, and our foreground is our background.