Saturday, July 9, 2016

Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art

Above The wonderfully appropriate cover of a forthcoming book by British historian James Taylor (former curator of paintings at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich UK), featuring one of the woodcuts of dazzle-painted ships by Vorticist Edward Wadsworth. The book, titled Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art, won't be available until mid-September 2016, but it can be pre-ordered now on Amazon, on both US and UK sites. Unprecedented in its detail, it is a significant new account of the development of dazzle ship camouflage in World World War I. The following is the publisher's note on its contents—

While it is a constant throughout history that conflict has inspired and engendered great art, it is a much rarer event for art to impact directly upon the vicissitudes of war. Yet, in the course of the First World War, a collision of naval strategy and the nascent modern art movement, led to some two thousand British ships going to sea as the largest painted modernist “canvases” in the world covered in abstract, clashing, decorative, and geometric designs in a myriad of colors. Dazzle camouflage had arrived.

Heavily inspired by the Cubism and British Vorticism art movements, dazzle was conceived and developed by celebrated artist and then naval commander Norman Wilkinson. Dazzle camouflage rejects concealment in favor of disruption. It seeks to break up a ship’s silhouette with brightly contrasting geometric designs to make a vessel’s speed and direction incredibly difficult to discern. False painted bow-waves and sterns were used to confuse and throw off the deadly U-boat captains. The high contrast shapes and colors further made it very difficult to match up a ship in the two halves of an optical naval rangefinder. This new book traces the development of the dazzle aesthetic from theory into practice and beyond.