Colin Self

Guard Dog on a Missile Base, No. 1


Not on display

Colin Self born 1941
Graphite, ink, watercolour and crayon on card
Unconfirmed: 556 × 762 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

From 1962, after the Cuban Missile crisis, to the end of the 1960s, Self’s work depicted the ever-present threat of nuclear war. In 1959 Self had stayed in a farm near an American airbase in Norfolk, where he said missiles pointed at the sky, and guard dogs howled ‘like wolves’. For the artist ‘the conceptual idea of nuclear warfare became mixed with that of animal nature and aggression’. In this work Self portrays a battery of Bristol Bloodhound missiles, deployed in the 1960s to defend Britain from the potential threat from Russian nuclear bombers.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry

Colin Self b.1941

T01850 Guard Dog on a Missle Base, No.1 1965

Not inscribed.
Pencil on card, 21¿ x 30 (55.6 x 76.2).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1974.
Exh: Piccadilly Gallery, November–December 1965 (41, as ‘Alsation Guard-Dog on Missile Base’, repr.); Young and Fantastic, I.C.A., July–August 1969; Macy’s Department Store, New York, September–October 1969; Eaton’s Department Store, Toronto, October–November, 1969 (not numbered); 11 Englische Zeichner, Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, May–June 1973, Kunsthalle, Bremen, July–August 1973 (11, Self section, wrongly dated, repr., catalogue pages unnumbered); Recerue Britse Tekenkunst, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, September–October 1973 (11, Self section, wrongly dated).

This work was formerly known as ‘Guard Dog on a Missile Base, No.3’. The artist wrote (letter of 4 June 1974): ‘The drawing “Guard Dog on a Missile Base” No.3 (in fact No.1 incorrectly numbered by Fraser Gallery) was begun in the USA at Niagara Falls, N.Y. State in the summer of 1965 and finished in Norwich in the autumn of the same year.

‘I think the seed was sown by a rude and sudden awakening in the late 50’s, while watching an Ed Murrow Trans-Atlantic T.V. programme discussion between Bertrand Russell, Oppenheimer and a third participant, a woman whose opinions were humanitarian and positive, whose name I now forget.

‘The depressing viewpoint of Russell entered my head and it was not until the signing of a peace document by Kennedy and Kruschev in 1963 that tension was, in a way, relieved.

‘Then followed in my output, at intervals, works about the subject.

‘A second experience, also in the late 50’s and one which directly relates to this drawing was when I stayed for a weekend on a 12th or 13th century farm in W. Norfolk beside which a Nuclear Missile base had been built.

‘By day one could see a solitary, massive white nuclear missile poised vertically and still. By night the howling of guard dogs chilled the air and imagination. Animal and technological threat were united in one fearful ground.

‘There are four drawings of the subject. The Tate’s is, I feel, the best. I still have a drawing very similar but disbanded in an early state of work, but what was drawn was, I felt, good.

‘The other two drawings are half imperial in size and not so detailed or intense’.

The artist agreed that related drawings of his were ‘U.S.A.F. Voodoo Base, Lakenheath Norfolk’, 1965, ‘Nuclear Bomber—Strato Fortress at Night’, 1969, and ‘Missiles’, 1971.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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