double self portrait howard taylor phenomena
artist : POW

POW camp, Germany c1943
brush and ink
14.6 x 20.3 cm
Art Gallery of Western Australia

POW camp, Germany c1943

From an early age Taylor was a keen student of aeroplane design and aerodynamic principles. He was a leader in sport, a close observer of his surroundings and intently focused on each of the pursuits to which he committed himself. In 1937 he decided to join the Royal Australian Air Force and learn how to fly. On 21 July 1937 Taylor enlisted in the RAAF. Stationed at Point Cook, Victoria for pilot training he was awarded the Sword of Honour as the outstanding pilot of the year. On 25 July 1938 he transferred to the RAF relocating to the United Kingdom.

War is declared on 11 Sept 1939 and Taylor is captured on 19 May 1940. He is interned as a P.O.W. and spends time in camps in Germany and Poland (Dulag Luft Oberwesel, Oflag IXA Spangenberg, Stalag XXA Thorn (Poland), Oflag VIB Warburg, Oflag XXIB Schubin (Poland), Stalag Luft III Sagan) until the end of the war.

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POW camp, Thorn, Poland 1942
pencil and ink wash heightened with white gouache on grey paper
21 x 16.2 cm
Art Gallery of Western Australia

POW camp inside, Thorn Poland c1942

Taylor’s internment lasted five years. During this period he took up drawing and gravitated to the visual arts. He recalled that the Red Cross provided rudimentary art supplies and amongst those interned were several with art school training who were able to offer advice. Stalag Luft III, in particular, had numerous willing subjects available to afford him practice in life drawing. Taylor used his time well, acknowledging the scope of skills required to successfully tackle pictorial representation. POW camp, Thorn, Poland is typical of the complexity of the pictorial problems set by the emerging artist, and provides an insight into many of the concerns of visual representation that would guide Taylor’s work over the next six decades.

Howard Taylor, like so many Australians who served in the Second World War, reflected in later years on how new opportunities and the adversities of internment shaped his plans and contributed to his achievements as an artist. Taylor and fellow Western Australian Guy Grey-Smith (1916–1981) actually met in a POW camp. Lou Klepac’s essay in the Guy Grey-Smith retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 1976, stresses the seminal importance of this period to Grey-Smith’s development as an artist. Taylor equally placed special emphasis on this period in POW camp when providing a chronology of his development for the Art Gallery of Western Australia artist biographical files in 1954.

Gary Dufour, “Howard Taylor”, in Artists in action, from the collection of the Australian War Memorial, Australia War memorial, Canberra, 2003

Howard Taylor was demobilised from the RAAF on 20 February and returned to the United Kingdom, where he married Sheila Smith and enrolled as a part-time student at the Birmingham College of Art on an RAAF rehabilitation grant.

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