Gordon Rusher – War Artist.
The concept of 'war artist' is virtually unique to Britain. Many artists over the years were killed while experiencing battle, especially in the two World Wars, but others survived to give us an extraordinary view of life in the front line. Being with the armed forces on active duty has, in almost every case, had a crucial effect on the artist’s subsequent work whether to take them down a dark angry path (Nevinson’s work was never quite the same afterwards), or a more hopeful path bathed in golden light. Gordon has taken the latter route preferring to offer the viewer hope rather than decay and destruction, very much like the Nash brothers who retreated to the countryside for solace to deal with their experiences. Gordon’s war paintings as messages are hard hitting and explosive, but expressed in a gentle subtle manner – very much like the man himself. The result is an absorbing account of a little seen and barely understood period of conflict, vividly described ‘on the ground’ with the harsh realities and small victories that are inevitable in such wars.
His technique is Shadow and Light, and hasn’t war always been thus. The backgrounds that lead the eye into locations that are bomb damaged or desperate, but perhaps with a hint of hope for the affected population. The washing on the line, the food stalls at the market with fresh vegetables – a statement that life carries on whatever the situation. Yet above all of this is the overarching dismay for war and for the chaos that it brings to innocent lives. The old ‘Grannies’ that are harmlessly dispensing cups of tea yet were threatened constantly with death, the children who face the new reality, perhaps the only experience that they have known. Artists seem to have antennae that the rest of us lack, reflecting the unease of life at the point of history. They help us to imagine what war means for those who are a part of it, from the combatants to the innocent, and bring it to the notice of richer populations who will hopefully never encounter such horror.
Gordon’s use of brushes to emphasize scenes is exquisite. The small brushes used to focus the viewer’s eye on a specific detail and the larger brushes swathed across the paper like a Turner wash. The soft light contrasts with the harsh conditions, snow on the ground interspersed with jagged points from barbed wire, damaged bricks, stones and debris littered on the ground. The understanding is that war is a human failing. Nature carries on regardless, uncaring but always beautiful both on the ground and in the air.
Gordon’s war art is both gentle and powerful. In a world that is so numbed by the constant flow of televised images that forever flick across our focus, it is vitally important that viewers are able to concentrate on one painting and explore the themes and their own emotional responses. This exhibition will make the viewer both think and feel. Casting an eye on one specific work for 15 minutes or more will bring great rewards.
Director, Rountree Tryon Galleries