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Dazzle ship prints at the Walker

13 October 2014 by Lisa

Dazzle ship prints

Curator Alex Patterson with the dazzle ship prints.

You might already know that there is a bold ‘dazzle ship’ of ours in Liverpool’s docks at the moment, but did you know about our set of striking dazzle prints at the Walker? Assistant curator of fine art, Alex Patterson, gives us the story behind the art…

“As we commemorate the centenary of World War I, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to display our rarely seen ‘dazzle’ prints at the Walker Art Gallery. These fantastic images were made by the British artist Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949) and are inspired by the concept of ‘dazzle camouflage’.

‘Dazzle camouflage’ was invented in 1917 by Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971). His unusual, yet pioneering idea was to deceive enemy U-boats by painting British ships in striking asymmetric patterns. These electrifying designs created a dizzying effect that obscured the ships speed and direction.

During World War I, Wadsworth served as an Intelligence Officer for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was stationed at the port of Mudroson the Mediterranean island of Lemnos until he was invalided out in 1917. When he returned to Britain he was fortunate to find employment in ‘dazzle’ painting. Wadsworth supervised the painting of over two thousand ships, working mostly at the ports of Liverpool and Bristol.

It must have been an extraordinary sight among the working docklands as whole vessels where transformed with explosive bands of colour. This is well represented by Wadsworth’s woodcut prints. Woodcut prints are a type of relief printing, where a design is carved into a block of wood, working along the grain. This method creates a clean and sharp printed image, which enabled Wadsworth to produce the bold optical effects seen in these prints, which in turn mimic the ‘dazzle’ ships he based them on.

Remarkably each ‘dazzle’ ship was painted with its own unique ‘dazzle camouflage’ and had its own individual markings, so no specific vessel could be recognised and targeted by the enemy. Wadsworth’s prints imitate this idea and each ship is uniquely ‘dazzled’. He also ‘dazzled’ the surrounding docklands where the vessels are stationed, a technique that seems to emphasise the concept of camouflage in a traditional sense.

Why not pop into the gallery to see our ‘dazzling’display up close for yourself?

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