Summary

Blitz: Plane Flying is a surreal depiction of a working-class London street during the devastating air raids which lasted from September 1940 until January 1941. Branson was then living in Battersea which was affected by the nightly raids. The air raid shelter positioned in front of one of the houses is an indication of the imminent threat, as is the enormous plane flying low above a recently bombed building, its wings casting a shadow over the street in which people are going about their everyday business. Although the plane displays the Nazi insignia, it also bears the three-colour emblem of the Royal Air Force, indicating emphatically that working class people, both German and British, are the actual victims of war. The propeller cuts vertically through the moon which glows against the acid greens and blues in the winter sky. A woman stands in the foreground holding a pram, her figure out of proportion with the men carting goods and walking along the quiet street of terraced houses. The surrealistic juxtapositions, for example the large cracked egg shell in the foreground and unusual perspectives imbue the painting with a startling visual intensity and a sense of the uncanny.

During the early and late 1930s a number of Branson’s paintings were exhibited by the Artists’ International Association (AIA). Founded in 1933, the initial objective of the AIA was to mobilise ‘the international unity of artists against Imperialist War on the Soviet Union, Fascism and Colonial oppression’ (Morris and Radford, p.2). As the number of members increased (by 1936 over 600 artists had joined the AIA), their aim was broadened to a popular front against both Fascism and war which they strove to achieve through public murals, documentary photographs and travelling exhibitions of paintings and sculptures. In 1936 members of the Surrealist Group were invited to join the AIA. Branson demonstrates an awareness of their precise technique and use of unexpected and disturbing juxtapositions in Blitz: Plane Flying to give an overt critique of the war.

Bibliography

Lynda Morris and Robert Radford, AIA: Artists International Association 1933-1953, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 1983
The British Soldier In India: The Letters of Clive Branson, London 1944

Heather Birchall
January 2005