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Giving wounded Japanese prisoner water

The continual rain and humid conditions in New Guinea forced Hele to reduce the size of his studies. The humidity also made it difficult to work with dry mediums he had previously favoured, such as charcoal. During this campaign Hele’s style altered markedly, as he adapted to the different conditions and worked mainly in pen and ink and watercolour.

Giving wounded Japanese prisoner water

Giving wounded Japanese prisoner water
drawn in New Guinea in 1944 pen and brown ink, brwon watercolour on paper
47 x 32.8cm
acquired under official war art scheme in 1946

Hele’s ability to quickly capture the scene at hand is evident in this sketch. The ink flows freely and almost continuously across the surface of the page as movement and form are explored. The image of the three soldiers and Japanese prisoner are barely visible through the mass of lines. They appear as a form of cursive writing, following the rhythms of the artist’s hand.

While in New Guinea Hele developed a freer, more expressive quality in his sketches. The academic draughtsmanship so evident in North Africa is abandoned for a tangle of agitated lines; tone and form are implied by patches of wash.

Hele’s frenzied handling of pen and ink recalls the work of Honoré Daumier, a nineteenth-century French Realist (1808-79). A shrewd observer of street life and public activities, Daumier’s caricature style enabled him to reproduce the essence of his subject while seemingly only sketching them casually. Both artists use line to convey the speed at which the drawing was made.

Questions and discussion
Study Hele’s drawing technique in this sketch. Follow the line movements around the page and describe Hele’s working method. Remember that Hele would have used an ink dipping pen.

Many of Hele’s sketches were visual memoirs developed into oil paintings at a later stage. Investigate how this sketch could be transcribed into a large painting.

The use of wash was a medium favoured by the old masters. Find reproductions of sketches by Rembrandt and Rubens and compare them with this work by Hele.

Practical exercise
Draw a form using a single unbroken line. Subjects can be human, animal or inanimate.

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