Cleaning guns on jets

The many drawings completed by official war artists during the Second World War convey a sense of authenticity and immediacy that is often lacking in large commissioned paintings completed after the war. For three of these artists, Ivor Hele, Eric Thake and Donald Friend, good draughtsmanship was a particularly important quality and a foundation of their art. Hele started his early study of figures in motion at Moritz Heymann’s school in Munich. This was one of the most powerful elements in his artistic development and one that he would continue to rely on throughout his career. In the 1930s Hele taught life drawing at the South Australian School of Art.

Cleaning guns on jets drawn in Kimpo, Korea in 1952
red crayon, carbon pencil on paper
37 x 54.4cm
acquired under official art scheme in 1953
(40361)

In the works from his official war artist commissions Hele sought to capture the human dimension of war and preferred to focus on the activities of the men. In 1952 he went to Kimpo in Korea where the Australian No.77 RAAF Squadron was based. In this red crayon drawing, three men are depicted cleaning the guns of a Meteor jet, though Hele has only sketched in a few lines to suggest the jet. The work places emphasis on the strength and intensity required to clean the guns, visually illustrated by an energetic and expressive line. The strengths of the work are in Hele’s underlying command of the figure and his ability to express movement. The practice of adding black lines over the base drawing is a method used frequently by Hele; in this sketch the carbon pencil flows from figure to figure, creating a strong visual link between them.

Hele’s drawing technique can be directly related to the work of the great masters such as Rubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. Hele owned a copy of R.A.M. Stevenson’s Rubens paintings and drawings, published in 1939. The reproductions of the paintings and drawings show Rubens’ ability to capture the energetic contortions of swiftly moving bodies. Hele drew directly from these influences and sought similar compositions.

Questions and discussion
Analyse the basic aspects of Hele’s style as portrayed in this work.

Compare and contrast the drawings of Rubens and Michelangelo with Hele’s figure studies.

Photographs can convey the nature of ar with directness and accuracy. Why do you think artists were still considered important in recording events during the Korean War?

Practical exercise
Hele was able to capture dynamic movement and power in his figures. Look closely at the figures in this sketch and use clay to model a variety of dramatic and emotional poses.

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