Gibbings, Robert - War years WWI
Type of Spiritual Experience
In 1914, Gibbings had volunteered for the Royal Munster Fusiliers. Commissioned at the rank of lieutenant, he was shot in the neck leading his men against Ottoman defences during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. He drew on the time he spent recuperating, first in Salonica and then Malta to produce a small group of unusual little colour prints - as eloquent and unusual as the man himself.
Retreat from Serbia, 1916
In January, 1916, he had opened the pages of a British illustrated newspaper to find a series of photographs showing first the disastrous retreat of the Serbian army through Albania, followed by more photographs of Britsh transports at anchor at Salonica. These ships had arrived as a relief force but too late, the intention being also to hold Salonica if they could not capture Constantinople.
"Gibbings had seen the slaughter and later read of the withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula. Now, there was a powerful photo of yet another wholesale withdrawal. He merely cropped the photo and cut the images from chestnut planks. The result was as simple as it is seductive. We look at this print today and think, 'What is happening here?' Now you know."
A description of the experience
From Modern printmakers by 'Haji Baba'
Gibbings sailed from Salonica in the hospital ship you see here in Shipboard, the Llandovery castle,1918. Gibbings had previously enrolled in the etching class at the Central School but at the suggestion of Noel Rooke, he tried wood-engraving instead. The same dramatic use of keyblock and shadow is there, but used with greater sophistication. What we see on the decks of the Llandovery Castle is the tedium that can effect troops; what we see in The retreat from Serbia is the way inspiration can produce a haunting work of distillation. Each of the images here somehow slips free of the mundane. There is also a sophisticated interest in structure and light and shadow in the print.
Shipboard, the Llandovery Castle, 1918
Gibbings was well able to ring the changes between the finesse of engraving and the more direct expressiveness of woodcut.
Evening at Gaza, 1918, manages to combine the two. (He spent a month in Alexandria I think before the Gallipoli landings).
Here he uses the simple silhouette and keyblock with a gradation of one colour on a second block.
This is as far away from the Japanese method as you can get and these works were praised in 1919 for their innovation.