Brian Hunter

Brian Hunter

Posted on 08/15/2013

Photo taken on August 15, 2013

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Spencer observes the mules observing the wounded

Spencer observes the mules observing the wounded
This is a bit of a cheat on my part, I'm afraid, as this piece isn't in the Dulwich show. I've included it because I like it- and because there's a very tenuous family connection. Stanley Spencer had joined the Medical Corps and was sent off to the half-forgotten Macedonian Front. My grandfather also served there. I don't suppose they ever met but I have a sense of connection with something which recalls that episode.

Most of the front ran through mountainous territory and evacuating the wounded was not easy; in this case they've been brought down on "Travoys"- a form of sled borrowed from Native American practice. These were pulled by mules. The mules now stand looking into the improvide dressing station, bathed in light. There are echoes of Renaissance Nativity scenes here, with the mules taking the place of the ox and ass.

Spencer was a devout, if highly unorthodox, Christian, always alert to the possibility that the gap between the worldly and spiritual might dissolve in unexpected ways and places. Caring for the wounded is a transcendant act here, with a touch of the divine