Cubist Slugs

Patrick Wright reviews Disruptive Pattern Material; An Encyclopedia of Camouflage: Nature – Military – Culture, in the London Review of Books:

‘I well remember at the beginning of the war,’ Gertrude Stein wrote in 1938, ‘being with Picasso on the Boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso, amazed, looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is Cubism.’ Stein went on to suggest that the entire First World War had been an exercise in Cubism. Hailing Picasso as the first to register an epoch-making change in the ‘composition’ of the world, she concluded that a great convulsion had been necessary to awaken the masses to his discovery: ‘Wars are only a means of publicising the thing already accomplished.’

Stephen Kern has pointed out that the Cubist quality of camouflage was quite widely perceived during the war. The artist Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola, who was one of the forces behind France’s camouflage initiative, claimed to have used Cubist means to ‘deform objects totally’ and deliberately to have employed avant-garde artists in his section de camouflage, where they proved adept at ‘denaturing any form’. The Expressionist painter Franz Marc was among the artists who worked to the same end on the German side and, as Roy Behrens points out in this flamboyantly peculiar Encyclopedia of Camouflage, ships painted in the disruptive ‘dazzle’ schemes developed by the British artist Norman Wilkinson were said to resemble ‘Cubist paintings on a colossal scale’.

More here.