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HMS Belfast by Hew Locke

HMS Belfast (part of ongoing series of large painted photographs)
2012,   189 x 127cm
Acrylic paint and ink on c-type photograph

See also The Tourists

I see this work as a neo-cubist image. The circular movement in the composition is derived from an Indian miniature painting of Krishna dancing with the Gopis. The coat-of-arms is an invention based on the sea-horse symbol, emblem of HMS Belfast, originating in the coat-of-arms of the City of Belfast.

HMS Belfast took part in the Korean War - the planes are North Korean and American jets from that period, mixed with planes and helicopters used by the contemporary North and South Korean forces. These include Apache Helicopters, F86's, F9F Panthers, F84 Thunderjet, B52 bombers, Sabres and MiG fighters. During this war, the ship was involved in the salvage of a downed enemy MiG fighter - important for espionage.

Picturing this ship as a rusting hulk signifies all the lengthy history she has seen. She was a prominent feature in the Cold War as well as in WW2. After the Korean War, she even came to the Caribbean, and was present off Africa at the moment of Tanzania’s' independence. I picked this ship, which is part of The Imperial War Museum, because she is a landmark in London, and I noted the Queen passing it during her Golden Jubilee Regatta. It is ironic that the most recent renovation of HMS Belfast was partly funded by Russian businessmen - in recognition of the ship's Artic Convoy role during WW2.

Much more than all this though is the personal - when I was a kid in Guyana we had loads of American war comics. The majority featured WW2, but a number were set in the Korean war. I was fascinated by these, as it was thousands of miles away, and they were fighting something called 'The Communists’ - not ‘The Nazis’, as I was used to. At this time in the sixties/early seventies, America was deep into the Vietnam War. I even remember the sound of the guns in the comics -BUDDABUDDABUDDA. My Airfix model planes were hung all around my room, as I have depicted these planes hanging over the ship.

Later, Guyana declared itself a Socialist Republic and we school children citizens found ourselves in a new reality, surrounded by aspirational socialist slogans. When I was 12 years old, I remember my mother pointing out to me a man who she said was a CIA agent. We were now the enemy. Hanging in my kitchen for the last 3 years is a small packet of plastic soldiers I bought in Miami - They are red and green, with the slogan "The Red Commies versus the Good Old US of A". This is retro irony - but I love it. Inspirations for work can be subliminal. I view the HMS Belfast piece as a voyage back into my childhood in 1960s and 70s Guyana.


detail of HMS Belfast

detail of HMS Belfast

All images © Hew Locke & ArtImage unless otherwise indicated