Sunday, July 24, 2016

Turning Point Midway

Turning Point Midway - Revised Version, by Ron Cole
So, sometimes this happens: A client will say over the course of months that they want one thing, and then as soon as a painting is completed that one thing will become something different. Sometimes that happens days before a deadline. Sometimes hours. But that's part of being a professional and I don't get annoyed over it at all. It's a new challenge to overcome, and when I pull it off I might use the exercise to justify a new Blog post.

In this case I was commissioned to paint the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi during the Battle of Midway. There were few specifics imparted to me besides this: Show it right before it sank and show "tragedy". This was for a Japanese client I'd worked with many times before and the language barrier necessitated our keeping communications simple. I explained that Akagi was actually scuttled near dawn on the day after she was bombed, when it was feared she might fall into the hands of the US Navy. Up to that point, because her damage was mostly limited to above her waterline, it was hoped that Akagi might be towed back to Japan. Thus I suggested showing the carrier late in the day of the American attack, as she quietly burned, her aircraft circling before ditching and her remaining crew gathering forward on the anchor deck. It hadn't been done before, and with the benefit of new research I could show the scene with unprecedented accuracy: a far distant sister ship (it was believed to have been the carrier Kaga) burning on the horizon, Akagi's decks clear of aircraft. A haunting and, from the standpoint of any seaman irrespective of nationality, sad scene of tragedy.

The Original Details of Ron Cole' Turning Point Midway

I liked it, but I don't work for me! My client wanted more action. I pointed out that depicting Akagi 'before sinking' and yet also while under attack was to depict two different events that were many hours apart. I was also arguably past deadline; he needed the painting in Tokyo, and a yet un-started Pearl Harbor piece, by the end of July. It was then the 23rd!

Those are the times when I pop an emergency Ativan (Please don't judge. I live a stressful life at times), sit back in my chair, and stare at a piece once finished that had suddenly digressed.

The revisions were many. I had to get the ship moving. That meant all of my port side reflections would change. I'd lose the crew. They were Japanese. No one would have been thinking of jumping ship at that point. All of the Zero fighters would have been in the distance, as they'd been drawn away from the carrier by the previous torpedo bomber attack. Obviously I had to add some American SBD Dauntless dive bombers. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be striking - no pun intended.

Details of Akagi amidships. The carrier was directly struck by only one American bomb, but its detonation in the hangar deck was enough to start uncontrollable fires that doomed the ship over the ensuing hours.  
After a few hours of uninterrupted painting: Mission accomplished.

It's interesting to me that the Japanese don't shirk from acknowledging their defeats - at least in my experience. I'd previously painted the bombing of Hiroshima for a Japanese client who specifically told me that he wanted to show the shock waves destroying the city. As an American I can only imagine wanting a painting of 9/11, which I certainly would not want. Yet there seems to be an agenda in Japan that runs deep when it comes to remembering these tragic events - be it the enshrinement of national sacrifice or statements about war in general. All of these pieces of mine are on permanent display in a Tokyo museum. I hope that they serve their intended purpose well.

Ron Cole

1 comment:

  1. Very nice and detailed blog post. Thanks for sharing this adventurous journey. You always bring something interesting and exciting. The way you explained the topic is also very appreciable.