Panel 1 for Sand in the Apricot Jam is coming together

As the exhibition fast approaches I’ve been beavering away in the studio getting the first panel ready to go, so why not share it’s development I thought. It’s really satisfying to bring together in paint the things I’ve researched.

Layering - his is one of the reasons why I love painting
Layering – this is one of the reasons why I love painting, it’s such a delicious medium!
The conditions take their toll
The conditions take their toll
Taking shape
Taking shape
This represents the battle weary soldier being reunited with his horse, it still needs work
This represents the battle weary soldier being reunited with his horse, it still needs work but it’s getting there.
A studio shot
A studio shot

To imagine how they suffered

I’ve been away overseas enjoying a trip through Europe with my family and on my return, in order to familiarise myself again with my Sand in the Apricot Jam project, I started reading ‘The Story of Two Campaigns, Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919‘, by C.G Nicol, 1921. The prose is poetic the accounts illuminating and often heart wrenching. I sat with tears rolling down my checks as I read the accounts of the devastating August offensive at Gallipoli. It was during this offensive that my grandfather Jack was shot in the leg, wounded like so many, so many, around him. I remember wondering, when I started researching for this project, how on earth they evacuated the wounded in such hostile conditions during that August offensive and the words that came from the book confirmed my worst nightmares. Nicol wrote:

“Rarely have men suffered as the wounded of those days suffered, particularly those who were helpless. Away up in the desolate ravines they had to lie until the over-worked stretcher bearers could carry them to the beach. Afflicted with thirst—not the parching thirst that heat and dust and perspiration produces, but the agonising thirst that follows bleeding wounds; the thirst that makes the tongue swell and fill the mouth, that thirst that fills the body with the fire of hell, the thirst that makes men mad. Nor was thirst all. There was the burning pain of open wounds, the torture of the flies around them, the constant fear of again being struck. How awful it is to lie helpless and wonder where the next shell will land!”

It is impossible for me to appreciate what that must have been like I can only imagine, and then for the wounded, if they survived, to hear that it was all in vain. Nicol goes on to quote this passage from John Masefield’s book ‘Gallipoli’ to illustrate the bitterness that must have been felt by these solders

“They went, like all their brothers in that Peninsula, on a forlorn hope, and by bloody pain they won the image and the taste of victory; and then, when their reeling bodies had burst the bars, so that our race might pass through, there were none to pass; the door was shut again, the bars were forged again, all was to do again, and our brave men were but the fewer and the bitterer for all their bloody sacrifice for the land they served.”

Nicol ends with “But it was never done again. The door was shut and kept shut, until it was opened by the destruction of the whole Turkish Army in Palestine years later. Only the mounted rifles regiments, of the N.Z.E.F., shared in that final victory against the foe that barred the way on the bloody crests of Gallipoli.” The enormity of this hadn’t fully registered with me, until reading that passage, that Jack and his fellow Mounted Riflemen got to see it through to this bitter end with this enemy. Not sent to the Western Front to fight against the Germans like many Kiwis did, but having returned to the Middle East they followed through fighting the same enemy, the Ottoman Turks, to finally appease the losses of their brothers at Gallipoli. I wonder if he saw it that way, I’d be inclined to think he did.


I’ve been working away on Sand in the Apricot Jam

Panel 1 – Evacuation of the wounded from Gallipoli to the desert of Sinai

“…some of the men as soon as they dropped asleep woke screaming through shock; none were undressed – at least very few by that time. They were so dead beat we wrapped them in blankets in their filthy clothes poor fellows and let them rest. Faces shot away, arms, legs shots everywhere…” – Sister A M Cameron describing her encounters with the seriously wounded days after the first landing on the 25th April 1915 at Gallipoli

I didn’t want to concentrate a lot of attention on Gallipoli in this project as I feel it is a campaign well addressed, but I wanted to acknowledge the New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) contribution (or should I say sacrifice) there. Technically it wasn’t part of the Middle East campaign but many of the soldiers of the NZMR Expeditionary Force who survived that dreadful campaign went on to fight in Sinai and Palestine.

For many New Zealander Gallipoli is held as an historical event that has cemented New Zealand as a nation. Strangely so, in some respects, as it was such a disastrous campaign of the Great War and because it was on the shores of Turkey so far from home. But I understand how from reading Terry Kinloch’s book ‘Echoes of Gallipoli’ that it was this distance from home and these conditions endured that led to the New Zealanders identifying themselves as being somewhat different to their Australian and British counterparts.

The conditions at Gallipoli were horrendous. Not only did the men endure the constant sniper attacks their time there was so dramatically contrasted by moments of shear boredom with the fear and exhilaration of close range fighting. They had to deal with difficult terrain and squalid trench conditions, and poor food – but the flies! Attracted by the multitude of dead bodies the flies came bringing with them disease as they flew from the decomposing bodies to the food the men were trying to eat. Many men succumbed to disease.

“They lived with the dead and dined with disease” – anonymous from a poem about Gallipoli.

The August Offensive was an attempt to end this dreadful campaign, according to the Australian War Memorial website:

“The August Offensive was the last major attempt made by the Allied forces at Gallipoli to break the stalemate that had persisted since the landings on 25 April 1915. The plan involved a series of thrusts being made out of the ANZAC position to seize high points along the Sari Bair range, which dominated the Gallipoli peninsula. These operations would be supported by several diversionary attacks along the existing ANZAC frontline.”

The offensive ended in many casualties being sustained. Jack was shot in the left thigh during this offensive on the 6th or 7th of August 1915. I wondered how on earth they got the wounded off the peninsula to the care they needed and the extra suffering the men had to go through as they were manhandled off the slopes of Gallipoli to the shores and on to the hospital boats. Eventually ending up in hospitals in Egypt, Malta, and Lemos as well as England and Australia. Great distances to be traveled for the sick and wounded.

The 1st panel starts to take shape

I like to build up my artwork with many layers of paint, some of the features you may see in these initial photos of the development may only just be evident under future layers of paint. I enjoy the idea that the work will have history under the layers, to me that adds to the visual narrative.

Gallipoli starts to take form
Gallipoli starts to take form
Evacuating the wounded from Gallipoli takes shape
Evacuating the wounded from Gallipoli takes shape

It was after my grandfather recovered from his injuries sustained at Gallipoli that he rejoined his squadron, and his horse, in the Sinai to go on to fight in this and the Palestine campaign. For this reason I decided to have this panel representing a transition from Galipoli to the desert as it seeks to acknowledge the differences in the two.

Detail of panel one showing soldiers charging over the parapet
Detail of panel one showing soldiers charging over the parapet

It’s been a busy week in the studio this week as the evacuation of the wounded takes shape on the first if the four panels.

I spend a lot of time pouring over historic photos and composing poses from images acquired from the internet. I was lucky enough to find some film footage of Gallipoli that we’d recorded off the TV years ago. Moving images offer just that little bit more than stills can, especially as photos can tend to be more posed than action shots. With the film footage I freeze the image and paint from that, I’ve even been known to take pictures of this stills on television set to make this process a little easier!

This trawling over the images does come at a price as I’ve been moved to tears on a number of occasions, feeling like a witness to the slaughter of these young, and in the case of Gallipoli often inexperienced men. It’s strange I guess tears falling for those killed so long ago but you can’t help but imagine your own brothers, sons, in the figures you see fall before you. Lets hope lads I can do you a good service.

The worn out medic starts to take his weary form
The worn out medic starts to take his weary form


Panel 1 development
Panel 1 development
Panel 1 develops
Panel 1 develops

A little gem from desert life

I found this little piece from a book ‘The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai and Palestine’ published in 1920 by Briscoe Moore of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and I just had to share this delightful bit of humour

While at El Arish, a “de-lousing” parade was held. These parades were held at odd times when opportunities offered, and were often most amusing. All of a man’s wearing apparel, and his blanket, would be put in big batches into a steam disinfector. There it would remain for about twenty minutes, when it would be supposed to be cleared of lice or other vermin — the writer one day heard a man remark that this treatment merely “refreshed them!” The steam disinfectors were either portable, or if on the railway, closed iron cars fitted with shelves and supplied with steam from an old engine.
On this day at El Arish, numbers of men had stripped, and were waiting in most airy attire beside their horses until their clothing should be “cooked.” Suddenly a “Jacko” aeroplane appeared, which shortly afterwards dropped a bomb not far from the disinfector. Then ensued a scene that baffles description, as men in all stages of deshabille, from a shirt to nothing at all, sprang on to their horses and scattered for their lives in all directions. It is perhaps superfluous to add that the humour of the situation was only appreciated afterwards.

Sand in the Apricot Jam

Sand in the Apricot Jam is a visual arts project by Rebecca Holden that acknowledges the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in WWI, particularly in the Middle East theatre of war. Their contribution at Gallipoli will also have a small representation in the artwork.

The title comes from my Grandpa’s distaste for apricot jam. You see he explained to my mum one day that he hated apricot jam because it reminded him of the rations from the war. The ‘sand’ in the title refers the desert conditions endured my the soldiers in Middle East.

Rebecca’s grandfather served with the Auckland Mounted Rifles and was wounded at Gallipoli. He returned to serve with his regiment in the Middle East until the end of the war.

The work, when completed, will consist of 4 large scale paintings (1.3 x 3m) representing different aspects of the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the conditions endured by the soldiers and their horses in this harsh environment. Two of the panels will be created prior to the commencement of the exhibition in the Vector Gallery at Expressions Art and Entertainment Centre, while the remaining 2 panels will be painted on site over the period 12 July 2014 – 7 September 2014.

After the exhibition at Expressions the work will be toured to different galleries and museums around New Zealand.

Detail of panel 1 under development, featuring injured soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign

“They lived with the dead and dined with disease” – anonymous from a poem about Gallipoli.

This is the journey of historical discoveries and the development of the artwork.

Thousandfurs continued… (From the Grimms Project)

It was time to up the anti on this golden haired princess and give her further prominence in the piece. I also wanted to introduce the severed arm (from the alternate ending for this tale) and what better way than to have her sitting on it! I also wanted to reference the title of the tale Thousandfurs but instead of cloaking her in the coat of furs which became her disguise I chose to refashion them into a pair of boots, far more fitting for this chick!

Thousandfurs | Princess with attitude


For the Grimms art project


My first work for this project is a painterly interpretation of the tale Thousandfurs. My colour palette was determined by this photo. In brief Thousandfurs is a story about a king besotted by his golden haired wife. Grief strikes the king though when his beloved wife dies. But the story takes an uncomfortable twist when the king suddenly notices how beautiful his golden haired daughter is and decides he wants to marry her. She tries to put him off by setting him extraordinary tasks to fulfill one of which is to have a coat made for her featuring 1000 different furs. Amazingly the king fulfills this quest and unsurprisingly the girl makes a run for it and escapes the castle. Only to be found by the king and his men, but when she was found she was wrapped in this coat of 1000 furs and at first the king thinks she is an odd kind of animal.

When it is discovered that she is in fact a girl and not some fascinating creature she is sent to work in the castle kitchen (the king did not recognise her as she was so grubby). As time goes by the king throws a number of balls in the castle and the girl sneaks out of the kitchen, dresses in fine ball gowns and goes to dance with the king. Strangely enough the king doesn’t recognise his daughter as he dances with her. He thinks she is the most beautiful thing, but like Cinderella she disappears before he can make his move. She goes back to the kitchen and makes the king some soup as instructed. He thinks the soup is the most divine he has tasted and demands to meet the person responsible for the soup. But dressed in the furs he does not see that she is the girl he has just danced with.

This soup delivery happens a number of times, as with any good fairy story, and each time she puts a golden trinket in his soup which bemused the king. On one occasion the king slipped a ring on the girls finger when they were dancing with out her realising and when she delivered the soup that evening the king saw the ring on her finger a knew that under that coat of fur was the beautiful maiden he had just danced with. He pulled of the fur coat and declared he would marry her.

Myself nor the author of this collection of tales, was all too keen on the ending of this tale of incest and he presented another ending. In short the alternative ending had the king getting his arms and legs cut off, which I won’t go into how this happened, but his bodyless arms did try to strangle the fair maiden’s husband until she saved the day, which is a much better ending in my opinion.

If you would like to check out how the painting is progressing have a look on the Grimms Project section of this blog

Grimms Project

Recently I embarked upon an interesting new art project and I thought it was about time I shared how it was coming along. This project is an exploration on chance, both for me as the artist and in some ways for those that chose to participate. The project had definite parameters to work within, a controlled experiment you might say, but chance certainly played a big role as I had to rely on others to define certain aspects of the artwork.

I wanted to push my artistic boundaries by giving someone else the authority to chose my colour palette and what it was that I was to paint although they didn’t know that when they signed up to participate. I put out a call to my friends on Facebook and ask if their were any willing participants who would do 2 things for me. One was send my a photo of a landscape that appealed to them and the second was to chose a number within a given range. They didn’t know how these elements were going to be used just that they were for an art project. My plan was to use the photo to inform my colour palette, which is dangerous territory for a painter to hand over that power I can tell you! The number gave me a page in a book of Grimm’s fairy tales from the book Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman,  that then gave me the fairy tale I would then interpret in my artwork.