PORTFOLIO > Artist Rifles
Artist Rifles was to become the first chapter in Paul's interrogation of the many-headed beast that is masculinity, of what it means to be a man. The most immediate subject of this enquiry was naturally to confront his own reasoning for joining the army.
Warminster, a small market town on the edge of Salisbury Plain, dominated by a large military base provided a plentiful source of reference for Paul's art. In essence, the town and its military base were the backdrop to a perpetual dress rehearsal for war, where they howl of A10's and the distant crump of artillery shells insinuate their report into everyday life. The military machine in various guises imposed itself on Paul's early life.
Inspired by his older brother Steven, at the age of sixteen Paul joined the Royal engineers to start five years of service as a combat engineer, followed into the army two years later by his younger brother Keith.
"The roles I acted out during my childhood played a fundamental part in shaping my perception of military life. I vividly recall the endless carnage I reaped with my brothers, played out in the local woods with an arsenal of replica weapons."
Death here only leads to reincarnation in the form of a different hero. In electing to assume every role, Paul underscores the fantasy element and personal nature of the work. One cannot doubt that the photographs are created, not merely edited and that every participant a clone of the protagonist. The individual becomes the unit in a symbiosis common to both military ideal and fantasy role-play.
The multiple self-portraits emphasise the effect of the military structure on a person's identity as it is subsumed into the unit, to become as it were, brothers in arms.
Though personal, the work also engages with its audience with a broad range of allusion and pictorial reference; in on picture the composition reflects that of a classical painting, another derives from Robert Capa's iconic image of the Spanish civil war. It may not necessarily be a specific or single image referred to but a stylistic genre such as the reportage from the Vietnam war, as in the picture "Scene of a jungle ambush", a photograph that nearly became "Demise of artist in local river".
Central to the concept of Artist Rifles resides in the mythic accretions of battle, it does away with the visceral reality of war, while retaining the drama end egocentricity of childhood games. It is the omnivorous nature of these games and imaginings that go to nourish the preconceptions behind the reading of photography in the theatre of operations, where events are similarly choreographed and veracity gives way to the creative process.
It is this creative process that becomes central to the viewing of these images; as with the scene on the top of the tank, where the viewer is drawn to make conclusions and adopt a narrator’s role, unwittingly attributing a time and a place to the momentary image and answering the unresolved. These pictures become a record of created histories, stubbornly inconclusive and therefore still malleable. We are invited to recognise, even participate in the fantasies portrayed, yet simultaneously guided to retain a critical distance. A language of shared expectation and pictorial convention briefly holds the amorphous fantasy of war.
The imaginary heroes that populate adventure narratives now seem usurped by the spectacle and paraphernalia of war itself. The domain in which these imaginary heroes dwell is one of the virtual. Television presents us with the clean war, one suitable for viewing over dinner and regurgitating as history in the form of the latest console game.