In a week when media coverage of the Royal Marines has shown graphically how the stresses of living and working in a war zone can overflow into uncontrolled emotion, it is appropriate that the Combat Art exhibition opens in Taunton. Former Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Col Alan Hooper, who himself kept a diary while on operational duty, feels that this type of project is important as a way of releasing the ‘emotional build up’ service men and women face when at war. ’It doesn’t surprise me it’s come from the Royal Marines. They have an ability to do the unusual, do the unexpected and they show great initiative and this actually links with the sort of itch they have to scratch…As an artistic exhibition I think it’s unique, but I also applaud what it does to help deal with the emotions that can build up under the extreme tensions of battle.’
The idea for the Combat Art project was conceived by Royal Marine widow Anita St John Gray and became a reality with the help and support of a variety of people from the Royal Marines including the former Commanding Officers at 40 Commando, Col M.J.A Jackson RM, who was recently awarded the DSO, and Col Alan Hooper RM, who acted as military advisors, with artistic advice coming from artists Jon England, Tim Martin and Stuart Rosamond who also acted as the exhibition curators.
500 Marines based in Taunton were given art kits to take on their last tour of Afghanistan that were specially created for the project. The kits are made from camouflaged material, fit into a trouser pocket and contain a variety of high quality art materials. Anita St John Gray says ‘we are not sure if all the kits were used, we do know that some of the work created was too personal for some of the marines to want to show’.
This exhibition is indeed a brave exhibition to take part in. Many of us who show our work regularly are used to the critique, the rejection that often comes from putting our work on public display. We are used to thinking of Marines as brave people, but this is a bravery they will not have had training for and which may not come easily. But by allowing the public to see this work they are allowing us into their world at a level we rarely, if ever, get a glimpse of.
The exhibition can be seen at the West Wing of the Market House Building in the centre of Taunton from 9th – 23rd Nov, Wed to Sat, 11am – 5pm.
I would encourage you to take the time to visit the exhibition and spend some time with this extraordinary work.