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Thursday
Nov022017

Dazzle Patterns

 

My novel, Dazzle Patterns (just out with Freehand Books, Calgary) is set in Halifax during the first World War, specifically during and after the Halifax Explosion.

I first encountered dazzle patterns when looking at paintings made my Arthur Lismer (a character in my book). He would go on to become a founding member of the Group of Seven, but in 1917, at the time of the Halifax Explosion, he was the Principal of the Victoria School or Art, in Halifax.

 

 

Lismer was a compulsive sketcher and was harassed on his frequent drawing field trips in and around that busy harbour by authorities, paranoid about spies. Lismer eventually got “official war artist” status. He did many paintings of ships in the harbour, including this well-known painting of “The Olympic” teeming with returning troops.

The paradox of these ships, engaged in the deadly business of war, painted in beautiful patterns, drew me into the origins of Dazzle.

They are a little cloudy. One version is that the idea was introduced to the British navy by a marine artist, though a zoologist also laid claim to the idea.

 I like the notion that it was introduced by a zoologist, because, the idea of dazzle, like so many other great ideas, occurred in the natural world first.

Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock

"Dazzle" in the case of zebras, is not so much camouflage as something to disrupt the silhouette of the animal, to confuse the lion. Dazzle patterns painted on the war ships, sighted by the predatory submariner, were intended to confuse shape, scale, even direction of movement.

Last week, when I read from my novel at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, I discovered, in Peter Dykhuis, the curator, someone similarily captivated by Dazzle Patterns. 

A few dazzle paintings were on the walls of the gallery, with the more extensive collection of Lismer’s drawings of the Halifax Explosions, some of which appeared in journals and books (courtesy of the historian Alan Ruffman). This show is part of a program of exhibits, experiences and installations that the gallery is mounting this fall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic event. 

It was never proved that dazzle patterns on ships were particularly effective, but as Peter says, it achieved another thing, “cubism came sailing into Halifax Harbour.”

 

 

 

 

 

                              Picasso-The Musicians, 1921

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, it began to influence fashion of the times. I wish these bathing suits were still on the market!

 

 Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right title of a book. I worked on this one for ten years, under a series of working titles, amid shifting sands in plot and theme. But, as the story emerged, the title rose from the page. The day I found it I called my husband right away to share my discovery: the music of the phrase, but more importantly, the ability of the idea to encompass metaphors: disguise (hidden in plain sight), seeing art and the art of seeing, was perfect!

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