My first thoughts on beginning the series were to paint exactly what I remembered, but then I began to throw the net wider, and included London images which I had not personally experienced, as for the length of the war I was based in Hampshire. Pictures which occurred, so to speak, in my mind’s eye. This then is the basis for the series, and indeed show beginning its life at The Bentley Priory Museum in November 2023.
Whilst the paintings were not made in 1940–45 they are based on real experiences which I was only able to see and then reimagine, not actually represent at the time as I was born in 1940. Interestingly, the Imperial War Museum only take art works produced contemporaneously. Somewhat difficult for me to assemble a whole show at the age of four, so, I am the contemporaneous one in this equation, not the actual paintings!
In the autumn of 1940, in the midst of The Battle of Britain (April till October), my mother was effectively dive-bombed in the open countryside close by The Vicarage in Whitchurch. The Bank of England moved important departments, along with key personnel, there for safety, along with my father, who really would have preferred to fight. She was heavily pregnant (with me) at the time and a German fighter machined gunned around her as she raced across an open field. There were planes crashed nearby, which my parents took me to see. The Nazis (obscenely) dropped anti-personnel devices specifically to attract children and I remember bomb disposal units arriving at the Vicarage, where we were domiciled, to clear the driveway of these shiny and deadly objects. I also recall US lorries loaded with troops driving though the village and throwing sticks of chewing gum to me off the back. All these things mix into a collective memory of the time, reaching a pitch with my painting “Der Friedhof” which is a response to Paul Nash’s “Totes Meer.” I have looked at his masterpiece in some detail and it is clear that he is interested in shapes, textures and the ghosts of redundant aircraft. For me it is The Devil’s Detail which interests me, so we have quite different approaches to similar subject matter. But I think it is one of my best works so far of the series.
I feel a spiritual affinity with artists such as Nash (both Paul and John) Sutherland, Ravilious, Moore, Piper, Bawden, and so on. I hesitate to strike any invidious comparisons, but I feel somehow my series continues in a sense where they left off, certainly as regards war art. One ambition of mine would be, at some point, hang alongside one or other of these past masters.
My family moved to South London at the end of the war, settling near Crystal Palace in 1945 meaning that I saw all the dreadful legacy of air raids and bomb damage (we played in the ruins, including unexploded ordinance!) and it took little imagination to go back just a year or two to the time of the actual raids. Then I decided to paint war events which had happened whilst I was at the same time on this earth. I also considered events linked to aerial encounters, attacks and battles. So, the assault on the Renault factory by Allied bombers has sparked one of my, at least as I like to think of it, most powerful images, as has the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Thus, from one little Hampshire village my consciousness of wider, tragic and irreversible events began to solidify into actual, concrete images.
I think I must be one of the last artists born during WW2 still painting the conflict as a subject. As a painter I find myself returning to a project I started some years ago, representing some of my recollections of the War. Finally, these paintings are of events which I actually lived through, and have remained branded into my consciousness for decades, only recently emerging in this form.
This exhibition carries with it the continuing and exponential effects of the two most devastating explosions ever unleashed in warfare. As Europe battles to allow one nation to retain its sovereign territories, it stands as a stark reminder of the power that evil and malign forces can still exert on all of us.
Remembrances of War by Paul Joyce, showing at the Bentley Priory Museum until 16th December. For more information, visit the website.