These works are part of an extensive body of exploratory works by New Zealand artist Robyn Hughes.
Cassino, Italy 2013
My father was a Major in the 19th Armoured Regiment, part of the 2nd New Zealand Corps that served in Cassino, Italy during WW2. He was one of the lucky ones to return home. He rarely mentioned his wartime experiences. Instead he celebrated family life and together with my mother built up a business in Auckland, New Zealand.
My generation grew up in peacetime and it is almost impossible to imagine what my father’s generation had been through in the war. Regrettably I never asked him that question. He died in 1968 when I was 18 years old.
This series of work is the outcome of my own recent research into the story of Cassino and why it had such significance in the Italian campaign of WW2. I have looked at official accounts of military history and have read poignant personal stories from people who were present at the time - from both sides. I have visited Cassino on numerous occasions, taken site photographs and have studied historical photographs and maps.
Throughout all accounts, the geographical terrain of the Cassino area has been described as ‘ treacherous’ in a war time situation. The Benedictine Abbey perched high on Monastery Hill, the surrounding steep mountains and ravines, the myriad of rivers and the harsh winter conditions of 1944 made life a misery for everyone who was there. The huge loss of life of civilians, military personnel of all nations and the pack animals that supplied the troops on their dangerous night time mountain treks is traumatic reading.
In the series of large paintings that I am presently developing I have used the notion of ‘terrain’ to present a psychological state of mind of trauma and chaos. I have depicted the terrain as surface that is torn, pierced, stained and threatening. I have manipulated the viscosity of the paint to create running, molten effects and to evoke a mood where visibility is limited, confusion is paramount and danger ever present.
In the smaller mixed media works that I am presenting at Legato 2013 I have used a combination of my own photographs and drawings juxtaposed with historical source material. I have selected, overlaid and manipulated these layers of information using both digital means and paint.
From my position of artist - researcher, who was not present at that time my goal has been to try to understand the complicated mosaic of events that took place and to bring visual form to the Cassino story in a way that is both poignant, informative and respectful.
I have referenced particular motifs and have repeated them throughout the work eg. The white marker tapes laid on the ground as an attempt to guide the soldiers with a safe path through the minefields, the poppies as a symbol of sacrifice and the’ sea of graves’ in the many graveyards that we now see situated throughout Cassino.
I have also chosen to include text in some of the works to bring to the fore the ‘soldiers voice’ as the prime narrator. In this way I hope to place authorship of the work back into the hands of those who fought and died in the battles of Cassino and to acknowledge and honor the enormous sacrifice that was made by people from so many nations.