Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Camouflage Artist | Alan Sorrell

Alan Sorrell, Self-Portrait (1928)

We've been looking for information about British artist and writer Alan Sorrell (1904-1974), who served as a camoufleur and war artist during World War II. According to the Brighton University website—
During the Second World War Sorrell volunteered for the RAF but was transferred as a Camouflage Officer to the Air Ministry in 1941. He made drawings and paintings of camp life, a number of which were purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee…

It was well known that scores of British artists had worked as camoufleurs during World War I, so that, as Brian Foss explains in Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945 (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 16-17), when World War II broke out—
…from early on, camouflage design had struck many artists as the most obvious route to congenial employment. By the beginning of September 1939 the Ministry of Labor had received letters from more than 2000 applicants for camouflage work, only a tiny fraction of whom even got onto a waiting list.…[By 1943] the number of artists who had earned a living in this line of work—though far below the number who had hoped to do sso—was impressive. Among the artists who had found camoufleur jobs for themselves were William Coldstream, Frederick Gore, Ashley Havinden, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Robert Medley, Colin Moss, Rodrigo Moynihan, Mervyn Peake, Roland Penrose, Robert Scanlan, Edward Seago, Richard Seddon, Alan Sorrell and Julian Trevelyan.

Earlier in his life, at age 24, Sorrell had been awarded the Prix de Rome for mural painting, which enabled him to study in Rome. Reproduced above (with permission) is an extraordinary self-portrait drawing, made with pencil, ink and opaque watercolor in 1928.

Alan Sorrell, Cavern in the Clouds (1944)

Mark Sorrell, one of the artist's three children, has written an online biographical essay about his father for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In an especially memorable passage, he writes—

Sorrell was a neo-Romantic. Recruits marching down to the station, in a wartime painting, proceed under a haloed moon. His reconstruction drawings are invested with dramatic cloud formations, swirling rainstorms, and smoke. In his more imaginative compositions, not tied down to immediate reality, a brooding oppressive atmosphere often prevails. They are images of a violently broken civilization—earthquake-shattered cities, jungle-invaded monuments, propped façades. In spite of this pessimistic attitude, he was a man with a gusto for life, naturally sociable and gregarious, with a witty manner which was hindered but never stifled by a stammer.

Of equal interest is an online video that was made by the artist's daughter, Julia Sorrell, in which she talks about her father in relation to a portrait that he made of her. In addition, there is other information at the website for the Alan Sorrell Project.