Silver Cross of St George David Rowlands, war artist
THERE are many ways of recording wars and often they are transitory – newspaper reports, for example, or TV bulletins. War artist David Rowlands has been laying down our military history in a more permanent way – as oil on canvas.
His evocative paintings show both the terror and courage of the battlefield, bringing it to life in stark reality. The injured lie dying, the fighting soldiers have fear, determination and exhaustion etched on their faces – every crease in their uniform and every blade of grass picked out in almost photographic detail.
As well as painting former battles – which he researches meticulously, interviewing veterans, studying uniforms, equipment and tactics, and whenever possible, visiting the battlefield – he has also been embedded with many regiments in their more recent conflicts.
David’s interest in the military started as a boy, when he would sketch soldiers and their equipment, drawing battle scenes at school and visiting regimental museums. After university in Manchester studying geography, he started work at the Reading Room at the National Army Museum in London, moving to Bristol to work as an artist in 1977.
Pub signs and portraits of dogs followed until a friend’s father, a former soldier, offered to take a speculative painting to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who then commissioned David to paint the Battle of Mons, where the regiment won the first two VCS of World War I.
This was in 1983 and led to many other historical paintings including the Battle of Waterloo, which was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and now hangs in the officers’ mess.
“Slowly I began to make a name for myself,” David says.
His talent and attention to detail led to commissions in war zones all over the
world, joining the soldiers on the front line. He started in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, and his career is now a history of the British Army in its conflicts around the globe: 1991 in the first Gulf War alongside many different units, including the Army Air Corps and 22 SAS Regiment; and 1993-95 in Bosnia with United Nations troops during the civil war – an experience which David says left him quite shaken up.
While he was there in 1995, both the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps and the French Foreign Legion commissioned him on the spot to paint their activities.
His work has taken him to Afghanistan, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and Northern Kenya, travelling by Army Land Rover, Chinook helicopters and on foot. His commissions have been many and prestigious. He’s also seen sights along the way which have naturally had an impact.
“I have been in mortal danger quite a few times, especially in Afghanistan, but you try not to think about it. Because I’m much more used to it, I don’t really get scared any more. I’m also lucky not to get PTSD; some do.”
David would say his most notable paintings were his first (shown right, centre), as it got him on the ladder, and a more recent work stands out: a 9ft by 6ft painting for the Scottish Parliament to highlight the contribution by Scottish men and women to service in the British Army. It depicts scenes covering the last hundred years from the start of World War I and was unveiled in October 2015.
One of David’s works, “Zero Alpha – Airstrip Secure”, was presented to HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace for her Golden Jubilee and the 60th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force Regiment, while another, of tanks of the Queen’s Royal Lancers in action in Iraq, was unveiled by the Queen in 2005.
His diary of his 1993 trip to Bosnia was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2010, and a commission from the Royal Mint has also seen his work on the £2 coin in 2015.
Just now, David is working on the assault across the Sambre-oise canal, France, November 4, 1918, the last major action on the Western Front during World War I, and it is due to be unveiled at Cambrai on 3rd November 2018. As he has become more familiar over the years with the uniforms and equipment of the soldiers, a painting probably takes him about two months to complete.
“But while I’m doing that, I’m usually researching the next one down the line, and another,” he says.
More of David’s work can be seen on his website at www.davidrowlands.co.uk.
Battle of the Alma.
David Rowlands expertly brings battlefields to life with his evocative paintings.
Fighting the Taliban in Musa Qal’eh.
Lieutenant Maurice Dease VC and Private Sidney Godley VC, 4th Bn The Royal Fusiliers at Nimy, near Mons, 23rd August 1914.
Operation Tor Shezada.