Compare and contrast Mark Gertler's 'Merry Go round' with C.R.W. Nevinson's 'The Machine Gun'. How do they reflect and convey the impact of the war?
The impact of the war on young aspiring artists has been showcased to the World over the years in a wide variety of mediums, yet only a select few have the ability to encourage more in depth thinking within the minds of art critics and general observers. Mark Gertler achieved nothing short of brilliance with his painting 'Merry Go Round' by conveying the drastic effects of war on the human mind in a rather less than obvious way. His approach involved a curious attachment to rather childlike activities, which is one section that contrasted- to varying degrees- with his best friend from the 'Slade School of Art', C.R.W Nevinson's 'The Machine Gun'. In Nevinson's painting we are straight away entangled within the complicated circumstances of the First World War. This effect is perhaps quite obviously achieved through his involvement of machine guns and agitated, perhaps even intimidated faces. Similarly, his structuring of the piece and use of colour encourage us to think more deeply about the effects of war. There are also many features within both paintings that show some similarity in reflecting the impact of war.
It would be wrong not to mention the merry go round within Gertlers interpretation of the war first, as the painting could not stand alone without it. It is the primary aspect of the painting that incorporates childlike features and therefore also is the first section that is contrary to Nevinson's piece. The general purpose of this giant structure, that almost engulfs the entirety of the piece, is to represent the circular motion of the war; showcasing countless numbers of soldiers being put through a system similar to that of a factory process, churning them out and sending more in. More specifically, Gertler viewed the process as futile, ongoing and perhaps never ending. So in this sense, the structural basis of the painting represents the futility of war. Futility, here, is represented in vivid colour and through the use of childish imagery, adding more emphasis to the cruel nature of the war as it sets up a stark contrast between the somber wartime emotion and the jovial nature of peacetime and spending time on the local merry go round with children. Nevinsons painting of 'The Machine gun' is viewed in stark contrast with the idea of a 'Merry go round' simply because it has a more sudden impact upon viewers when first observing it. The machine guns and war-like features are generally more striking in the sense that they immediately remind viewers of the concept of war.
War-like intentions within Nevinsons piece are somewhat intensified by his use of colour and structure. Comparing the two images for colour is rather simple: Gertlers is vivid and exciting while Nevinson's is rather bland and lacks much character- this in itself represents the true nature of wartime- therefore the two convey images of war in a completely different way. This is not to say that the two aren't as effective as each other, but more so that the two men had different views on the war. This, no doubt reflects the experiences that the two had at the time. Gertler was a pacifist who refused to fight in 1916 when conscription was introduced and therefore had a fabricated view of the war; a distorted belief that is picked out quite quickly when observing his 'Merry go round'. Nevinson, however, was an official war artist who was sincerely horrified by the war. His observation is more realistic. The structure of his piece is adapted to showcase war in its true nature. Furthermore, the lowering of status of the men by physically positioning them under the surface in Nevinsons rendition serves to degrade the men who appear within the painting, embodying the general level of squalor that soldiers were living within during wartime. Further to this point, Nevinson believed that his painting alone would be the painting that would inform people of the horrors of war, and his use of the man in a hunched position, almost attached to the machine that he is firing represents how man and machine had almost become a unified force. This in some ways sheds light on the idea that, over the course of many wars, men have adapted and evolved to be able to hide behind machine as it did the work for them. This could be another way for Nevinson to convey war as a continuing concept that has become engrained into people's lives. In fact, this idea serves to compliment Gertler's piece in its entirety, through both of the pieces hinting at the theme of continuity of the war.
Gertler successfully depicts the intensity of war by subtly showcasing horrified expressions on the faces of the riders. These terrified expressions serve to create a sense of danger on what is commonly known to be a playful children's ride and it is this contrast that connects general life at home with life away on the home front. These cohesive features make Gertler's piece more effective in portraying the devastating after effects of war on a generation. In this sense, the war is being viewed as a threat towards society at home, whereas Nevinson's depiction represents a more alienated case. The men in Nevinson's painting are soldiers who seem to be bearing sufficient equipment and are positioned in a somewhat secure location away from the real one on one fighting. Here, Gertler is conveying war as more a universal outbreak that has affected him and people around him back a home just as much as those soldiers away fighting.
Finally, Gertler's use of a dark backdrop with light fading away in the distance represents lost hope during the war. This sense of impending darkness reflects on the harshness of war and how it is capable of overwhelming the rest of the World. This is similarly shown within Nevinson's painting, which is almost entirely immersed in darkness. This must have been the common reality that both artists faced; they perhaps feared that this was the war to end all wars. Nevinson's placement of the barbed wire at the top of the painting represents the inaccessibility of the blue sky, perhaps hinting that once one is submerged in war there is no escape. Here the war is depicted as a ruthless, never ending cycle that the general man has been dragged into.
Overall, Mark Gertler's 'Merry Go Round' illustrates the intensity of war by using childlike comparisons and the incorporation of a generic merry go round. Essentially, these proved successful in being able to draw together day-to-day activities carried out by civilians back at home with the relentless nature of war. This undoubtedly showcased the impact of war on Gertler and his livelihood. Similarly, C.R.W. Nevinson highlighted the key aspects of wartime to ultimately be able to represent the influence that the war left within society. He truly connects with observers by being able to communicate his belief that man and machine would never be separated again following the war. Both artists clearly showed to us the true scale and impact of World War One by providing us with sincere, thought-provoking renditions of their experiences off the back of a war.