Medical air evacuation

Many of Hele’s official war paintings are laden with images reminiscent of early nineteenth – century Romanticism. Hele often portrays events in a heroic mode and, like the Romantics, plunged into the midst of experience. In an effort to emphasise the extraordinary effort of the men involved in war, he sought to paint the dramatic climax. The actions and gestures, although exaggerated, allow us to read the historical details at a more human level.

ART40301Ivor Hele
Medical air evacuation. Acquired under official war art scheme in 1953
ART40301

In Medical air evacuation Hele depicts a moment of frenzy, as injured soldiers are pulled from ambulances and loaded onto planes. Central to the composition are the stretcher bearers, their twisting torsos and bulging muscles representing an idealisation of the male body. The middle figure struggles to hold the weight of the stretcher, his back accentuated by darker colouring and his physical exertion highlighted by exaggerated shoulder blades and straining legs. The semi-nude depiction of the men and their almost superhuman muscularity can be related directly to figures painted by Michelangelo. A student of formal teaching academies, Hele would have viewed and copied many of the works of the great masters.

The shift towards a more expressive form of painting that first appeared in Hele’s New Guinea works becomes more pronounced in Korea. The surface of Medical air evacuation is painted in heavy impasto, thick applications of paint worked extensively over the canvas. The vigour of Hele’s brushwork dissolves any detail when viewed at close range. Hele conveys the impression of the action continuing beyond the picture frame by positioning a gun in the immediate foreground, placing a cut-off figure on the left and showing the mass of figures receding into the distance.

Questions and discussion
In Medical air evacuation has Hele simply painted the events as they occurred?

Why is there such a contrast between skin tones in this painting?

By examining works by Romantic artists, such as Delacroix and Géricault, can you think of any similarities between them and Hele ’s work?

Practical exercise
Draw a student in the class from an unusual perspective - lying down or viewed from a great height.

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