Saturday, 2 March 2013

Recollection of Beachy Head, March 18th, 2003

Recollection of Beachy Head, March 18th, 2003 (oil on canvas 120cm x 120cm)

During an emergency Commons debate on March 18th 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of an unpublished dossier he had access to which showed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and the means to inflict serious damage and loss of life to British citizens within forty-five minutes of the start of hostilities. If Iraq refused to comply with the United Nations proposals that it hand over these weapons, then Britain would have no alternative but to wage war on the Saddam regime.

We were spending a few days in Sussex at the time, and had driven up to Beachy Head. We parked up and had lunch in the car while we listened to the commons debate on the radio. It was all very depressing. Robin Cook resigned, Claire Short didn’t, and Blair seemed to sound like a deranged bellwether leading the flock towards the precipice.

As we walked along the cliff tops, the clouds rolled back, and the late afternoon light became dazzling – so dazzling, in fact, that we couldn’t see the horizon – and everything seemed to be bathed in a vivid pink glow. I did several sketches and shot a roll of film with the intention of working the images up into a painting when I returned home. I didn’t necessarily want to produce an anti-war painting, but wanted to get across the notion that against this quintessentially English backdrop, something disturbing was taking place. On the surface, it’s a painting of a cute-looking sheep; but we, the onlookers, are the rest of the flock, and we have to decide whether to follow it for a few more yards over the edge, and into certain calamity.

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