Marking the centenary of the World War I Gallipoli campaign, last April painter John Walsh joined a group of artists on a journey to Gallipoli Peninsula to make work towards the exhibition entitled Your Friend the Enemy which will travel Australasia in the coming year. On this trip Walsh was drawn to the personal, often untold, narratives of men at war.
The paintings in Gallipoli have stories to tell. This new body of work is drawn from stories told by the historian who accompanied the artists and an archive of reading and intimate letters sent from the frontline. It provides a chilling account of lonely lives, tumultuous conditions and violent encounters. One story Walsh relates through a letter addressed Sharpnel Gully July 1915, where the author opens “We are exhausted and broken and even though the Command has told us not to worry family with the horror that is this place, I will tell you this”…he goes on to tell the tragic fate of a 17 year New Zealand boy.
Despite the grim reality of life (or death) for his subjects, there is a calmness to these paintings. Walsh’s technique of applying thin layers of paint in washes, adds an ethereal quality that seems in opposition to the drama of the scenes they depict.
Your Friend the Enemy is a major Australasian WW1 commemorative project culminating in two exhibitions that will tour New Zealand and Australia concurrently from 2015-2018. Curated by Terence Maloon –former curator AGNSW and current director of The Drill Hall Gallery, ANU, Canberra and John McDonald, Art writer for the Sydney Morning Herald Your Friend the Enemy features the work of significant Australian and New Zealand contemporary artists commemorating the ANZAC legend and the centenary year of the Gallipoli campaign.