Earlier this year, Giles Revell’s Battlefield Poppy appeared on a Royal Mail First Class Stamp in the UK, commissioned as part of a set commemorating each year of the First World War’s centennial. Featuring what looks like a smoke-wreathed, blood-red poppy—the symbol of remembrance for the war in Britain—the stamp inspired a series, “War Poppies,” which was shown this summer at Oculus Gallery in Los Angeles. In the images, Revell suspends real flowers in watery fields of color that resemble billowing clouds or explosions. Using dye-injecting techniques he developed in earlier series, such as his “Flora Pigmented Still Lifes,” Revell submerges the flowers in tanks of water, and photographs the movement of pigments of varying viscosities that he injects with catheters around them. In an edited email interview, Revell tells PDN about the projects.
PDN: How did the stamp project come about?
Giles Revell: I was approached by the Royal Mail as one of five artists to create an image of a poppy to represent each year of the 1914-18 World War. I proposed several ideas, settling on ‘The Battlefield Poppy’ as the most suitable. The image personifies the poppy expressing the loneliness and chaos of war.
‘The Battlefield Poppy’ was made in three stages. The base layer of the image was introduced to create a plane that was designed to give a sense of the scale and the vastness of the featureless landscape, then the ballistics mimic the dirty clouds of mortar fire, followed by the delicate but disrupted detail in the poppy.
PDN: What were some of your inspirations for the “War Poppies” and “Flora Pigmented Still Lifes” series? They feel very painterly—are there other artists you look at or think about in relation to these series?
GR: Visits to the National Gallery in London over the years have fueled my imagination. J.M.W. Turner undoubtedly has made an impression. His later abstract impressionistic work is wonderful.
PDN: How did you first start working with injected dye?
GR: I made a series of work that was inspired by a trip to Pompeii ten years ago. I was struck by the story of Pliny the Younger who made the first document of a natural disaster in AD 79 when Vesuvius erupted catastrophically engulfing Pompeii and the Bay of Naples. I made some simple images to symbolize the air thick with ash from tumbling pigments in a tank of water. They were designed to accompany the words of Pliny. The methods devised for these have been honed to control scale, viscosity and the energy of mixing of pigments, along with an understanding of how palette evolves.