Thursday, September 30, 2021

Poet William Carlos Williams meets Gerald H. Thayer

Above Gerald H. Thayer, Male ruffed grouse in the forest (1907-08). Watercolor on paper. 19.75 inches high x 20 inches wide. First published as an illustration in his book, Concealing coloration in the animal kingdom, New York: Macmillan, 1909. Plate II, 38 (public domain). The original painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Roy R. Behrens, “Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience” in Ann Elias, Ross Hartley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds., Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the art of disappearance. AU: Sydney University Press, 2015—

The grouse [in Thayer’s painting] is completely motionless (a common means of defence among animals) for the same reason that the Ames distorted room [one of the Ames Demonstrations in psychology] works best from a rigid, “frozen” one-eyed view. Motion is a great spoiler of camouflage, and if the grouse moves even a muscle, it will be quickly given away.…


Halter Peter, The revolution in the visual arts and the poetry of William Carlos Williams. Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 125-126—

[From an analysis of a William Carlos Williams poem]…the last lines [of the poem]—“a / partridge / from dry leaves”—contain a reference to the painting Male Ruffed Grouse in the Forest by Gerald H. Thayer…Thayer’s watercolor of a partridge merging with dry leaves and winter trees behind it is related to the Audubon tradition of accurate and loving observation of the American fauna which Wlliams so highly valued…

Moreover, Thayer’s painting is a kind of picture puzzle: Based on the systematic exploration of mimicry in animals, it depicts a partridge that is indeed difficult tell “from dry leaves.’…Williams may well have singled out Thayer’s painting as a work of art that, not unlike his own poem, explores ambiguty and foregrounds the problem of figure and ground. Both painting and poem are about what has to be “figured out”; both contain, in other words, the hide-and-seek dimension that asks for the viewer’s or reader’s active participation.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

attribute rhymes, proximity, and aligned continuities

suite of design-themed posters (designer unknown)
Camouflage artists are not alone in making use of unit-forming factors. As is evidenced by this series of posters, graphic designers make incessant daily use of attribute similarities, proximity, and aligned continuities. Each of these posters is a tribute to a different variety of design (they represent—from left to right—graphic, industrial, and interior design). While each is unique, they hold together as a suite, like a set of dinnerware, as variations on a theme. Recurrent circles (in the form of a plate, a sphere, and side views of a circular table and lamp) are an especially important motif. More>>>

bilious green and red-lead squares set diamondwise

HMS Mauretania
Arthur Riggs Stanley, With three armies: on and behind the western front. Indianapolis IN: Bobbs-Merril, 1918, pp.16-18—

Our little procession that night consisted of two hospital ships full of wounded going to Blighty, our own ship, and the usual convoy of destroyers. The weather was good for submarining, rainy, blowing half a gale, and black as a pocket. The enemy could creep up and wait in our path unobserved…

…What a day that one of swinging anchor was! Submarines outside—a new liner not yet on her maiden voyage but merely coming from the yards, torpedoed and destroyed—an American destroyer sunk—two big passenger liners sent to the bottom, one visible from our ship when we passed its location. Rumor was busy indeed. But we were on the home stretch, we had all of us seen much and learned  more; we were on an American ship with a veteran crew…

The ship itself was not painted a uniform war gray, but with a bluish-gray as a background, she was literally covered, hull, superstructure, funnels, spars, boats, everything with bilious green and red-lead squares, set diamondwise—camouflage at sea. When coming aboard a young airplane engine expert, with the rank of a Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, shivered at this hideous pleasantry, and all the way across missed meals and kept away from the bluest part of the smoking room.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

two boys beneath a coat become a circus elephant

Above Page with text for children from Clarence F. Carroll and Sarah C. Brooks, The Brooks Primer. New York: Appleton, 1906. Public domain.


John Lewis, Heath Robinson: artist and comic genius. New York: Harper and Row, 1973, p. 192—

The repeated use of the camouflage theme in [William] Heath Robinson's Second World War cartoons may have had something to do with the fact that his eldest son Oliver was a Camouflage officer in the British Army. 



Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Friday, September 24, 2021

Sunday, September 19, 2021

sex on an iowa farm / it is praying mantis party time

Photograph © Mary Snyder Behrens
Of late, we have had some interesting encounters on our five-acre wildlife refuge, and not just because the human race is rapidly self-destructing. As has happened every year since we first moved here in 1991, the monarch butterflies gathered in our grove of trees on their annual migration. Their numbers are conspicuously less than they were in earlier years, but may have been slightly stronger this year. For nearly a week, it is heartening to stroll among them as they fly around ones head, and, when the numbers are sufficient, to watch them change the leaves from green to orange as they hang suspended from the trees.

At nearly the same time, the hummingbirds have also been passing through in their usual abundant numbers, each of them fighting off the others for sole possession of an entire feeder, even if there are multiple feeding stations. They are unrelenting as they dive at one another, using their long, thin beaks as if they were fencing swords. Unheard of until this year, we found a dead hummingbird on the porch deck. It appeared to have a broken neck. It was adjacent to a feeding station, and may have crashed into a porch railing as it was being attacked. Holding its body in our hand, we were amazed to find that it was literally "as light as a feather." Regrettably, we didn't think of photographing it, and very soon it (apparently) blew away.

As if those events were not enough, even greater commotion was caused last week when Mary came running in from the garden to say that she had spotted a large female praying mantis. We both rushed out to see it (each year, we encounter at least one on our property, probably as a result of ordering a few egg cases many years ago from a garden supply catalog). But this time, we were even more fortunate. We watched her for a couple of days, as she grazed on grasshoppers. And then, about two days ago, when we went out to visit, we discovered that a male partner had discovered her, and we photographed them in the process of mating (see detail above, and full image below). Viewer discretion advised.

In the photograph at bottom, you may notice that the female is looking toward the camera (mantids have a curious human look because they can turn their heads like humans). She is not easily disturbed by observers, so perhaps she was looking at the tasty grasshopper at the right edge of the photograph. To find her (which is not always easy), we sometimes look for the discarded body parts of grasshoppers.

As we were observing all this, we began to wonder if the male mantid would be eaten by the female after having mated. It is rumored to happen, but apparently only about one in forty times. Or, in some instances, the male may kill the female. In this case, when we went out to observe them again that same afternoon, the party had ended. The male had left the female, and had returned to routine activities at a safe distance. Now, we will be on the lookout for an egg case.

Photograph © Mary Snyder Behrens 2021

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Franz Marc as a WWI German artillery camoufleur

Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest
Above Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest (1914). In earlier paintings by Marc, figures are easily distinguished from their backgrounds. As his work evolved, animals and landscapes increasingly merged, progressing toward embedded figures


Tim Newark, Camouflage. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007, p. 68—

[During World War I, the German army] recruited artists to disguise their weaponry. The most famous of these was Franz Marc, an Expressionist painter who served initially as a cavalryman. He wrote a revealing letter to his wife in February 1916 in which he told of the creative pleasure he derived from painting military tarpaulins by adapting the styles of great modern painters.

“The business has a totally practical purpose,” said Marc, “to hide artillery emplacements from airborne spotters and photography by covering them with tarpaulins in roughly pointillistic designs in the manner of bright natural camouflage. The distances which one has to reckon with are enormous—from an average height of 2000 meters—enemy aircraft never flies much lower than that…I am curious what effect the ‘Kandinskys’ will have at 2000 meters. The nine tarpaulins chart a development ‘from Manet to Kandinsky.’” 

Franz Marc (1910)


Friday, September 10, 2021

harlequin-patterned WWI dazzle ship camouflage

Above Photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged British troop ship, the RMS Mauretania, arriving in New York harbor, carrying infantry from Europe (December 1919). If compared with the 1914 theatrical photograph below, it is evident why the public commonly compared such checkerboard-patterned camouflage to a traditional harlequin’s costume. 

painted bridge camouflage during both world wars

Above Photograph (c1918) of a World War I-era camouflaged bridge in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, fifty miles southeast of Nancy. Note the painted scenic panel that spans the length of the bridge (in imitation of a row of buildings) and conceals the traffic crossing it.

Below is a newspaper account of the removal of bridge camouflage at the end of WWII.


CAMOUFLAGE REMOVED FROM RIVER BRIDGE in The Valley Times (San Fernando Valley CA)  July 12, 1947—

One of the last objects to be relieved of its wartime coating of camouflage is the Los Angeles River bridge on Victory Boulevard between Glendale and Griffith Park.

I.M. Ridley of Burbank today is directing two crews removing the camouflage that was placed on the bridge about six yers ago to make it appear non-existent to possible enemy bombers. Three days will be required to sandblast the paint off and return the bridge to its former white cement finish.

Most of the bombshelters have been removed from around the county’s war plants. But many buildings that produced war goods still retain camouflage.

Friday, September 3, 2021

visual ambiguity / metaphors, camouflage, visual puns

Anon, French postcard, portrait of Bismarck
Today, I ran across an online essay (it's been online since 2017, and I've only just now found it) by American designer/illustrator  Catherine A. Moore, titled Seriously Funny: Metaphor and the Visual Pun. It is a well-written overview of ambiguity, especially puns and metaphors, both word- and image-based. 

The term ambiguity is commonly misunderstood. It doesn't imply a lack of meaning, but refers instead to the potential of multiple meanings. It comes from the same etymological root (ambi, meaning "both" or "on both sides") as ambidextrous, ambivalence, ambitious, ambience, amphitheater, and so on. In practice, it has lots to do with embedded figures (such as the pun-embellished portrait of Otto, Prince of Bismarck, shown above), with metaphors, and, by extension, camouflage.

Moore's essay is a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion of various kinds of word play, from which she moves on to examples of extraordinary visual puns (dare we call them image play) by such masterful practitioners as Christoph Niemann, Guy Billout, and, of course, René Magritte.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

speeding up the daily production of ship camouflage

During World War I, did any of the ship camouflage artists come up with clever procedures by which they could speed up the daily production of dazzle designs?

The answer is affirmative, although we do not know to what extent these were actually put into practice. Among the most ingenious was a method that originated with an American Navy camoufleur named Everett L. Warner. It was he who oversaw the ship camoufleurs in Washington DC at the Design Subsection of the US Navy’s Camouflage Section. Not only did he originate this method, he also documented it with photographs and described it in an article that was later published.

Here is what we know about his innovative method of producing new schemes for the sides of ships: At some point, he discovered that the painters at the harbors, who were applying the schemes to the actual ships, did not fully understand how various distortions worked. As a result, he initiated the practice of requiring small groups of those painters to attend training sessions at the Design Subsection. The distortion effects were a challenge to explain, and Warner soon found it was helpful to have on hand a number of cut-up, variously-colored wooden scraps to use in demonstrations.

One day, while preparing these demonstrations, Warner inadvertently arranged a number of these scraps of wood on the surface of a table. With no particular purpose, a wooden model of a ship, painted in monochrome gray, had been placed on the same surface, so that it served as a contrasting background. At that point, Warner realized that he could easily rearrange the scraps, in all but an infinite number of ways, and then use that arrangement as a flat, confusing pattern on the surface of the ship. If the scraps were aligned at an oblique angle, the plain gray ship behind them would appear to be positioned at the same angle. more>>>