by Max Turner
In 1995 I fell in love with Wilfred Owen. I discovered him, loved him, and mourned his loss in the same week.
In 1995 the school’s Art Curriculum was to consist of two very different projects.
And an art project tied into the History Curriculum where we were studying Germany from 1914 to 1939. The Great War, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm, the impact of the Spanish Civil War, the rise of the Weimer Republic and then the Nazi Party.
We were asked to take inspiration from Warhol and soup cans. From Owen, Sassoon, Brooke, Graves and of course Picasso’s Guernica.
In 1995, some of us were going through our goth phases as we looked for ways to exorcise our hopelessness. Those of us in need of an outlet as we watched our parents get worn down by government policy whilst we ate our free school dinners, jeered by the kids who could afford their food.
In 1995 I found a way to channel my self destructive thoughts and feelings into a creative passion.
In 1995 I spent weeks working clay with my hands. Sculpting Picasso’s screaming horse on a mound of dead bodies, set on a plinth that read the old lie “Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori.”
I held my breath when the teacher fired it in the kiln.
I painted it shades of green and brown. The colours of the Western Front. Dark red blood foaming from the horse’s mouth.
In 1995 I poured my soul into clay and felt every word written by a man long dead, whose photo I would gaze at with the wistful fancy of a closeted teen with a crush.
In 1995 my screaming horse earned a curious nod, and an acknowledgement that my skills with clay were not the best.
In 1995 I acknowledged that art was in the eye of the beholder, as I looked at a can of soup and women’s faces consisting of dots. I nodded and smiled and claimed to understand why it was art.
In 1995 I was in danger of losing the creative passion that my screaming horse had brought to life. I dallied and grew apathetic as the time to reveal our great pop art creations for grading drew closer.
In 1995 the ruin of my academic record was looming.
I pulled myself together and cut a piece of rectangular card a little larger than A4. I covered that card in papier mache, creating a curve – the effect of a flag waving in the wind. As time grew shorter I started to paint, only realising part way through that I had forgotten to cover the newspaper with white pulped paper to mask it.
In 1995, as the teacher’s assessments began I offered up my failed project. A half painted US flag, newspaper still visible under the thin paint and extending out past where the still drying colours ended. My teacher stood back and gazed upon it with a discerning eye and flicker of joy. I had captured something.
In 1995, thinking on my feet, I made up a bullshit tale for my teacher about how the flag represented the juxtaposition – a word I had not long learned and used to the fullest – of rich and poor America. How there was a lesson in the newspaper print visible beneath the red, white and blue. I was lauded, as was my “art”, such an insightful piece. Top marks.
In 1995 I learned a lesson that I’m still not fully finished with.
That screaming horse is somewhere in my parent’s attic and I think of it every time I forget what creative passion is.
I look back on it now, and I’m not even sure that it was 1995. It might have been 1996. But I guess that isn’t important.