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Raw War: We Are Building a Better World

Ken Howard (1932-2022)



Oil on canvas

49 ½ x 89 ¾ inches

Royal Academy Illustrated, London, Royal Academy, 2010, Pages 152-53 (illus);
David Austin and Neale Worley,
The Way I See It. A documentary about the life and work of Professor Ken Howard, OBE RA, 2011

Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition, June-August 2010, No 792, as 'Raw War: We Are Making a Better World';
'A Century of British Art: 1945-2010', Chris Beetles Gallery, 5 October-6 November 2021, No 348;
'The Autumn Exhibition', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, September - October 2022

‘In this exhibition [Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 2010], I’ve got a wide range of work … There’s Raw War, which, in fact, is a tough picture … People won’t believe that I’ve done that one. I suppose it was the years that I spent with the British Army between ’73 and ’83, and I worked at that time in places like Beirut, when they bombed the American base there, and I worked in Cyprus just after the Turks invaded. It did have quite an effect on me, in terms of … what I was doing, was about. On one hand, that side of life exaggerated, if you like, the celebratory side of what I was doing. It made me want to do that more. And yet, on the other hand, the celebratory side – my beaches and my studio interiors etcetera – seem to stress the importance of this sort of thing …

I had this idea of man’s inhumanity to man, if you like, the terrible things that men do to each other, and yet I didn’t have a concept to begin with about how I could make it visually come over rather than verbally … And the theme for the Summer Exhibition this year is ‘Raw’. But I suddenly realised that ‘Raw’ was ‘War’ spelled backwards. And it was at that time that I was beginning to be able to see how I could get this idea down …

I found that Northern Ireland and all my 10 years’ experience with the army, on the one hand made my natural inclinations stronger, and on the other hand made me question them very much. At one stage I was going to put, I had cut out of the paper the head shots of the first hundred men that were killed in Afghanistan, and I was going to have that on this central part, But then I began to think … I don’t want this to be offensive to any individuals. But every one of those 130,000,000 million deaths must have caused families to grieve and suffer …

That expresses to me the contrast to the things that I delight in, because I’m not incredibly depressive about life in general, but there are two very definite sides of the coin, aren’t there?’

(Ken Howard speaking during David Austin and Neale Worley’s The Way I See It. A documentary about the life and work of Professor Ken Howard, OBE RA, 2011)