Mailbag: Futurist camouflage and Ukiyo-E

I blogged a few months ago on Franco Grignani, distinctive zebra of the design kingdom:

Reader DS alerts me to the existence of so-called Dazzle Camouflage, the British navy’s unlikely attempt to appropriate the signature black-and-white op-art forms of Grignani and other Futurists for the purpose of military camouflage:


The technique was developed by English painter Norman Wilkinson, who clarified its seemingly-dubious application in a 1919 lecture:

The primary object of this scheme was not so much to cause the enemy to miss his shot when actually in firing position, but to mislead him, when the ship was first sighted, as to the correct position to take up. [Dazzle was a] method to produce an effect by paint in such a way that all accepted forms of a ship are broken up by masses of strongly contrasted colour, consequently making it a matter of difficulty for a submarine to decide on the exact course of the vessel to be attacked…. The colours mostly in use were black, white, blue and green…. When making a design for a vessel, vertical lines were largely avoided. Sloping lines, curves and stripes are by far the best and give greater distortion.

The painting of more than 2,000 ships was supervised by none other than Edward Wadsworth, who was the most well-known of Vorticist painters (Vorticism being essentially an English knock-off of Furturism with a different name, slightly different underpinning philosophy and no awkward fascist connotations). I’d seen Wadsworth’s boat paintings before, but had no idea that they were actually battle plans to be put into action:


Camouflage on the whole has been claimed by various avant-garde art movements from the very beginning. Picasso is supposed to have muttered  ‘We created this!’ to Gertrude Stein the first time he saw a camo vehicle roll out into the streets of Paris.


Meanwhile, in the comments section to the Japan/China and Japan/Russia Fantasy War Drawings post, JohnnyO points out some great Ukiyo-E resources. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’m particularly taken with the series called Gather Together Pictures:


Johnny adds a comment about Hokusai, the author of the famous wave image and all-around loon who gave himself over 30 different names during his lifetime:

Hokusai had some great political cartoons that were quite funny when you understood the context — this one shows an octopus dressed as a samurai, sitting on a pile of potatoes, battling a farmer.


You are certainly thinking “WTF?” (or at least “信じられない”) but there was a bad rice crop the year before and the government banned snacks, or something like that.

I could have sworn there was much cooler one where a rice snack was in a sword fight with a potato snack. That was pretty awesome. (That, or I imagined it, but it would *still* be awesome.)

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