Inactive service

16th March 2007 at 00:00
James Boswell, Unofficial War Artist; Text by William Feaver; Muswell Press pound;25

Historians explain the strategy and photographers capture the action, but perhaps it takes an artist to portray the sheer tedium of war: the daily round of chores, medical inspections, trips to the NAAFI, with only the occasional brawl or a snatched snog in a doorway to liven things up.

This was the Second World War as portrayed by James Boswell, the New Zealand-born painter. He was a Communist, and campaigned against Fascism long before it became fashionable to do so. He served during the war as a radiographer with a medical unit, first in Scotland and later in Iraq.

The Iraq campaign was short-lived; Boswell drew the camp life left behind after the war had moved on to more active fronts. There are a couple of sketches of the locals, but it's mainly soldiers standing around smoking, washing their clothes, taking a shower, pitching a tent or carrying a dysentery victim to the Medical Officer. Boswell's Iraq is bleak and dirty, and his soldiers have the resignation of men putting up with it for now but longing to be home. Not so different from today.

Boswell was overshadowed by contemporaries such as Henry Moore and David Low and is still largely forgotten today. This is a timely revival of an artist with much to tell us about our own times Se n Lang

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