Sunday, January 30, 2011

Before your eyes -- Dazzle -- It's a glittering prize*

This was going to be a SERIOUS POST about camouflage, because Riddled is a SERIOUS BLOG. That was before I came across the diagram for Razzle-Dazzling the S.S. War Penguin. The esprit de corps aboard that ship does not bear thinking about.
As any fule kno, the Dazzle Ship theory of camouflage was inspired by an unaccountable vogue for high-contrast, geometrically-patterned styles that had seized the fashionable young people of Europe in the years prior to World War 1. As well as "Dazzle clothing", there were Dazzle chips, and Dazzle Furniture.**

The style was even adopted as house decor, to liven up parties when people had to go up and down stairs where the position of each step was broken up by multiple outlines, diagonal lines and false shadows.

In its wartime application, the idea was that if ships painted this way traveled fast enough they would change colour through the Benham effect, causing potential attackers to swear off the rum and have a wee lie-down. It is not known whether Dazzle ships were actually any safer from U-boats, but the scheme did provide Cubist and Vorticist painters with a way of contributing to the war effort while remaining safe at home, so it did serve its primary function.

At any rate, the idea of confusing any Hunnish invasion forces by concealing the entire island of Manhattan was certainly asking too much of the concept.
By the time World War II rolled around, trends in art and fashion had moved on. Reflecting this, the methods used to disguise ships in the 1940s relied more upon Surrealism.


We should also recognise the contribution of Roland Penrose, who covered Lee Miller (left) with green body paint and camouflage netting in order to disguise her as Veruschka (right).


Fortunately Conceptual Art was not the dominant movement at the time. Otherwise the form of concealment for each ship in the Atlantic Fleet would have consisted of (1) a full-sized photograph of the ship, and (2) a sheet of paper bearing an enlarged dictionary definition of the word "Ship".

* Cf.
Alternative music track here.
Riddled does not rate for OMD.

** At the end of the 1960s Pink Floyd were toying with the idea of reviving the whole aesthetic style, resulting in this alternative cover art for Atom Heart Mother.

8 comments:

vacuumslayer said...

I bet the S.S. War Penguin really struck fear into the heart of the enemy. That and its sister ship, the S.S. War Snugglebunny.

Substance McGravitas said...

When you get a really big cow you paint a lot of circles onto it and then tip it over and enjoy the resultant crop circle.

Smut Clyde said...

Crop circles are actually the work of the farmers trying to hide their fields from the UFOs.

There's a good compilation of Dazzle images here, BTW. And one from the Imperial War Museum.

ckc (not kc) said...

Veruschka: "I've seen slow service, but this is ridiculous - no tip for you!"

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I had a tie like that.

Alas, the enemy was still able to find me.
~

Another Kiwi said...

Cats were, of course, early adopters.

Smut Clyde said...

I rate for Franz Marc woodcuts.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I bet the S.S. War Penguin really struck fear into the heart of the enemy.

Unfortunately, Jerry developed the "Leopard Seal" class of heavy cruisers.

Thanks for the Siouxsie link- a personal fave.