Living Faith - Living Community - Living History

Drawing to a Close

An art exhibition by Robin Oliver



Robin Oliver’s Thought-provoking Exhibition is presented as; ‘A Play on Words’, in Eleven Scenes, including his small Fallow Deer assemblage called; ‘Terms of En-Deer-Ment.’(Terms of Endearment)

The Artist presents here, a Fallow deer as an assemblage of metal with barbed wire, which has the hollow interior of a small shiny Trojan Horse. In effect a tomb! Containing loving thoughts, and messages, which were sent to and from the Trenches.

The Fallow Deer Buck has in effect become a receptacle for the Grief of a nation, containing as he does a reduced sized replica; ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, a token of the time, sent to the bereaved family/next of kin, of a Casualty killed in the Great War. Made in bronze, these Memorial plaques were sent, to the Next of Kin, accompanied by a parchment scroll. The image of Britannia; bestowing a Crown of Laurel takes the eye to the rectangular shaped tablet, bearing the full name of the deceased in raised lettering. The inscription around part of the circumference reads; 'He (or she) died for Freedom and Honour'. Robin feels it unlikely that it would have been of Comfort to the Bereaved of any Generation. However, some plaques were mounted and displayed with pride; some became the focus of an Indoor Shrine. Robin has interred, within the Stag, Forty of his handmade scrolls bearing the Names and Numbers of Individual Soldiers who died in World War One, with No recorded, date of Birth, or Date, of Death, which is carried safely in Remembrance by the Fallow Deer.

Robin says that “This Deer is a very European Deer. The Fallow Buck defends its ‘Rutting Stand! Even at the risk of Death. The word ‘Stand’ used in this context, echoes orders given to the Soldiers, at the front, too; “Stand to! Before; ‘Going over the Top’, out of the trench, and into battle. It is no accident that the word Fallow refers to Land, Enforced Celibacy, Deer, and Time, in the context of this exhibition piece. The term ‘Fallow’ becomes an intimation made by the Artist, of the fact that, Trench warfare was a ‘Fallow period’ during the Great War, a time when it was felt that little militarily was achieved, Digging in! In terms of, progress toward, what would be a hard-won, short-lived Victory? The good agricultural land was laid waste, in effect rendered barren, nothing planted in the blasted earth during the War years, but, Barbed Wire, Horses, and the Battle torn Bodies of Men!”

Robin reminds us of the many Farmers, Crofters, and Shepherds who were now in the service of the King, dreaming of the day that they could return home to till the soil, nurture new crops, and wander peacefully through, much missed flower, and herb filled pastures, or the heather clad hills of home.

One of the largest pieces to go on display at the Cathedral, created by Robin, is concerned with ‘Setting the Scene’ for Britain’s entry into War; Scene One, of his play on words, is titled; ‘Leading us into the State of War, shown in Forty Poppies!’ Beginning in, 1903, a time of perceived, ‘Empire, Peace & Prosperity’. Robin’s Artwork concluding that this will be a War without end! The exhibition itself takes us through from World War One, into 1920’s Peacetime, to another of his Scenes which is titled by the Artist; ‘Adolph’s Play tent,’ a stark, and foreboding reminder from Robin of the fact that, during the Post War Years, Adolph Hitler, and others in Germany could not accept their defeat, after a long and terrible War, which was drawing to a close from 1918, Robin explains that “by 1924, Hitler had written, ‘Meinkamph’, (My Struggle) full, as it was, of Hitler’s ideology that the Germanic people (The Germans) were a superior race, asserting Hitler’s espoused belief, that they ‘must strive, to lead and master Europe,’ or face their own demise! In effect Hitler was declaring War on anyone who was Jewish, had some form of disability, or anyone perceived to have any kind of sexual orientation, believed at that time, to be, opposed to, the required Heterosexual norms, they, Hitler argued; ought to be eliminated, which he asserted to be imperative! Hitler’s Propaganda included the perspective that the German people had not lost the Great War in the battlefields, rather they (he) promoted ideas about having been betrayed from within, and ‘stabbed in the back,’ by anyone who was thought to be ‘Bolsheviks, Socialists, Communists, and Jews’. This was to lead to the Second World War, and the Holocaust. The Oppression of the

Jewish people took on a real momentum in 1933, due to Hitler’s ongoing, expressed Anti-Semitism. Robin’s Exhibition narrative concluding that War-mongering and Anti-Semitism are ever-present threats to Peace, even now in, 2018, as we look back, one hundred years, since a much longed for, Armistice, would be agreed to end World War One.”

In addition, new work titled ‘Roll Call’ (a reference to ‘the National Roll Of The Great War’ 1914-1918) is to go on display, which highlights ‘The Poppy Factory’ in Richmond, said to be ‘England’s leading employment charity for Veterans with health conditions or impairments’. Some of who work to produce the Poppies, and Wreaths, for ‘The Royal British Legion’s, annual Poppy Appeal’ and those required by the Royal Family. There is emphasis made by Robin upon some of; Minister of War, Lord Kitchener’s Army, as he features and Remembers Forty Individual Numbers, identifying Soldiers, who died with No Known; date of birth, or date of death, recorded up to the present day. The dead Soldiers numbers can be observed in the Artists work, displayed upon Kitchener’s tunic, viewed through Poppy shaped, cut out, windows. Robin highlights the fact that 1st Earl; Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener’s image was used in many Recruitment Posters during World War One. The Artist also seeks to Remember that, Kitchener himself, became a fatality of the War, killed on the 5th June 1916, whilst set sail on HMS Hampshire, which collided with a German mine in the North Sea, adjacent to the United Kingdoms, Orkney Islands, on its way to Russia.

The Contribution made to the War effort through Farming & Agriculture is to be reinforced in Robin’s presentation of a very large Blue & White Spode; ‘Dairy Jug’, depicting a Pastoral scene which could have been observed in England or Europe during Peacetime. Here the Artist presents, ‘the ready-made’, in the context of the Art Movement called; ‘Dada,’ which questioned established assumptions about what Art ought to be, and how it should be made. Notably in reaction to World War One, and the Nationalism that increasing numbers felt, had, led to the Bloody and perceived, senseless loss of life during a prolonged Conflict. Robin asserts that World War One was a period which appeared to enable, present, and popularise ‘MODERN’ Art. It is this now established Modern Art which Robin contributes to, in his work today.

In addition a Spode Bread Bin is placed to remind us of the Lords Prayer; the scene presented called, ‘Give us this Day our Daily Bread’, designed to remind the viewer that during the First World War; supplies of Bread and Flour were becoming increasingly limited in supply, resulting in Government campaigns, and posters, encouraging people to ‘Eat Less Bread’, in a bid to ‘Save Wheat to Help the Fleet!’ By 1916, it is a matter of record that the staple food of the British Soldier was Pea Soup with Horse-meat chunks, and when seasonal vegetables were scarce, nettles, weeds, and leaves would be added to flavour soups and stews. Is Robin also alluding here to the Symbolism of the sharing and breaking of Bread? And to the many shared meals by the men at War, with no Bread to eat. Or does his use of ‘the Lords Prayer’, reinforce the unimaginably high numbers of Men; called to fight, at the front, whose fate was to become broken, as Christ’s body was broken on the cross.

Robin reinforces that this was a time when Women where encouraged to join ‘the National Service Women’s Land Army’ through bright coloured Posters with rallying messages such as; ‘God Speed the Plough and the Women who drives it!’ Other Women were called to learn, for example, to make munitions, and fill jobs which were needed in the absence of their Men, fighting at the Front. All of these new roles, aided in the struggle for Women’s Rights, and Suffrage, which had begun before the War, given that May 1914, had witnessed Emmeline Pankhurst; a founding member of ‘the Women’s Social and Political Union’ being arrested outside Buckingham Palace, where she had gone, to try to take a petition to King George V.

In another Scene Robin’s installation called; ‘Red Cross’ is presented by the Artist in the form of one of the Many small, hand made, Shrines which began to spring up at home, at the end of a street, in the corner of a park, or along a war torn road, overseas, in France, or Belgium, between, 1914-1919, created by the bereaved, in Remembrance, as World War One, rumbled on in many countries, across the world, violently, and unrelenting, is dedicated by Robin to the Loving Memory of the many Civilian Men, Women, and Children, killed during the conflict, in addition to the Army, Merchant, Royal Navy, and Airforce combatants who died. These shrines, Robin explains, preceded the village and church memorials or Cenotaphs which were built after this so-called; ‘Great War’, to Remember, the War Dead. Items such as a crucifix, a photograph, or object belonging to a deceased individual(s) may have become the centre of some of the shrines made at that time.

Robin’s handmade English Oak Wooden Cross, the centre of his Shrine, being a reference to the fact that many believed, at the time, that the men whose lives were taken (given) in battle were following Christ, who had given his life for the sake of us all, upon the Cross. Robin’s simple, humble; Alter Cross is an empty cross reinforcing Jesus risen. Individual clergy of the time, for example, Arthur Winnington-Imgram, a Bishop in London, is quoted as having said; “this nation has never done a more Christ Like thing than when it went to War” This reinforces beliefs of the time, in Britain, that the Conflict was necessary to preserve the ideologies, and values, espoused by some across Britain, which was then, the head of an Empire, ‘the British Empire’, which was then set within a more global context, occurring as it did at the end of a Victorian era.

Robin reiterates that many died in the trenches, which meant that as a result there would be no known grave, and the remains of the deceased could not be returned to Mourning families, so a Memorial Shrine gave civilians a place to assemble, grieve, and remember, or leave a floral tribute, letter, or photograph, however, these Shrines could contain no bones, flesh or blood.

Robin will create a space, within the exhibition, below his small Red Cross Shrine installation, where written tributes, messages, or terms of endearment, can be left by any individual. Those visiting the exhibition, and members of the Cathedral Clergy, its congregation, and industrious dedicated volunteers, are invited by Robin to place some written words, an image, or images there, below the shrine, in response to the Exhibition, or to reflect, their own thoughts, and feelings, about the many lives lost during World War One, and through subsequent conflicts. Or in Remembrance of a loved one who has

died as the result of War, or Service. Robin especially welcomes the words of those who may have lost loved ones, for example, through the more recent Operational Theatres in Afghanistan, who have died, having taken their own life, post service, as the result of the effects of; for example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, those ex-service Men and Women whose names are NOT Remembered in other Remembrance arenas. (*Because this is an Art Installation Floral tributes cannot be left, or accepted.)

In addition, Robin’s Red Cross Shrine installation is designed to highlight what was happening In France and Belgium during the War, where makeshift markers in the form of wooden Crosses identified graves. Cemeteries created during the conflict showed rows of temporary Crosses. Tended by local people, or by, for example, members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs).

Is the Artist suggesting, and reinforcing, in the presentation of his humble Shrine, the fact that for many Men and Women at War, their Faith, was of great comfort, perhaps even a form of Psychological First Aid! As Robin’s Cross is set upon a First aid box, converted and used during the War years, a time when children at home were taught to administer assistance, to the wounded or injured. A Belief in God and life everlasting would be of comfort, to any Soldier who believed in the Salvation of Christ, walking as they were, into War and witnessing and being faced with a Living Hell and likely Death.

At the, Drawing to a Close, of Robin’s Exhibition in July, he hopes that a local Church, Gallery or Charity, for example, may wish to use his work for display leading thought until Armistice Day, 2018. Once the 11th of November 2018, has been reached the Artist will not return to the subject of the War in his work. Having kept his personal; Remembrance Promise, never to forget! Motivated in his efforts since the age of 14 by his learning of the words of; John Mc Crae’s Poem; In Flanders Fields (May 1915). John served as an Army Doctor during the War and wrote to us, asking in his third and final verse, that we; “Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw. The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though Poppies grow, in Flanders’s field”.

The Exhibition closes with the question; as nations of the World are we ever to find Peace? And in Conclusion that we ought never to forget lives lost as the result of War.

© Robin Oliver April 2018



2018 Dates


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