John Byam Liston Shaw’s 1901 oil painting pf ‘the Boer War’ presents the theme of loss through the symbolism of birds. Similarly, birds are a recurring figure in the Croatian artist Lonac’s work acting to convey a strong emotional message. However, unlike Shaw, Lonac’s detailed public murals are primarily executed with spray paint and minimal brushwork, a technique he has self-taught and refined through extensive fieldwork over the years.
The time period in which the two artists lived and created during differs.
Shaw was one of England’s most prolific painters of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Whereas, Lonac is a contemporary artist of the 21st century that continues to create new work in present day. Boer War’ draws on the consequences of conflict through depicting the women’s isolation within her setting. In particular it addresses the ideas of bereavement and desolation that were the immediate consequence back home. Lonac’s work is also emotionally driven, about personal revelations and social commentary.
An example of this the composition ‘Nest’ which is a critique modern society and culture in teaching young ones hate and upbringing them to be aggressive people. It is likely the contrasting cultures of the different time periods influenced the artist ability to portray social issues. Lonac lives in an era where individuals have far more free-will and therefore confidence to voice their opinions.
Regarding the stylistic traits of the two artworks, Shane was the last gasp of true pre-Raphaelitism at a point when this kind of artistic style was going completely out of fashion.
At the end of the 19th century, the movement had moved away from the ideals of intense observational realism and moral commitment and drifted towards a fanciful religiose symbolism. Despite Byam Shaw being influenced by the bright colours of the Pre-Raphaelites, the colours of the wildlife in this painting are far more subdued and muted as if in the shadow of a dark cloud. This could symbolise feelings of the subject; the death of her partner has darkened her life. Byam’s proliferating detail of the surrounding nature puts emphasis on the place which symbolises calls out this sudden, darkened, grieving memory. Similarly, Lonac is strongly influenced by stylistic traits of realism however, like Shane, this influence is only to an extent. His work brought to life not through colour but instead through the playful combination of his excellent realistic skills with his rich surrealistic imagination, making his work hyper realistic. Both artists choose not to conform to all the normalities of their preferred style and branch out, giving their work a more personal touch.
Additionally, the individuality of both artist work is heightened by their choice in subject matter. In the Boer War Shaw is showing a young woman musing on the death of a loved one. It is believed the subject is the artist’s sister, Margaret Glencairn mourning over her cousin George killed in the Boer War, South Africa. Likewise, Lonac’s work often contain portraits of people he knows, including himself, his father, and friends. He draws his inspiration from his personal memories, his passions, his observations. For both artists this bestows a level of intimacy and diaristic intimation to the imagery instead of a generalized anonymity.
Both explore the power of language by entwining it into the subjects of their work. When Shaw first exhibited the painting, he added two lines to the title which came from A Bird Song, a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti: ‘Last Summer greener things were greener. Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.’ Ambiguity is created by this along with the employment of the oblique title ‘The Boer War’. The ways that these words perform in the viewer’s mind, both connecting and disconnecting to the image, is very clever and intuitive of Shaw. Similarly, Lonac’s work always has a great poetic sense which contribute to the imaginative impact of the work. Both explore the power of language. For example, the foreground of ‘Gun Birds’ features they were “flying higher than the others, so they shot them down”. This gives Lonac’s work an additional emotional motif and encourages observes to think more deeply about modern society’s perception of violence.
The two artworks consist of various symbolic elements, including birds. In ‘the Boer war’ in the water in the right foreground a single feather of a swan can be seen. It is likely that this symbolises loss as swans’ mate for life and if one dies, the other longs for it. This could be drawing a comparison to the suffering of the woman who has lost her partner on the field of battle. Swans also often symbolise purity. This could show how the women envisages her partners heart as pure despite the pain he has inflicted on her with his absence. Another piece of symbolism in the painting is the way the artists has painted ravens in flight over the trees. Ravens can symbolize death and illness. This could be a sign of sickness and consequently amplifies the ominous atmosphere of the painting. Similarly, birds are a repeated image in Lonac’s work. However other symbols appear, often related to wildlife and natural imagery like fish, wolves, and owls, for example. Used to embody or personify human behaviours, conflicts, or peace.
Regarding similarities, the bird is present as a symbolic introjection and extended metaphor of war and peace in both artists work. However, Lonac displays the birds obviously unlike in ‘the Boer war’ where it’s presence subtle, hiding it in the foreground. Shaw’s work is sensible espousing mostly to naturalistic sensibilities of pre-Raphaelitism work and Victorian society expectations. Consequently, the idea that conflict and bereavement can invoke vulnerability is concealed. Conversely, Lonac’s large-scale murals make the emotional message blatantly obvious and hard hitting for observers. His work suspends the logical boundaries through controversial images to deliver an alternative playful sorrow on the rich spectrum of human vulnerability. This arises the speculation over whether it is better for observers to find the symbolism of artwork intriguing (like Shaw’s) or overwhelming (like Lonac’s).
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