Paul Clifford is a British multi-media artist and academic who has developed his career in the UK and internationally. His art practice involves creating work for exhibiting worldwide, and undertaking public art commissions. Paul worked as the Director of Fine Art and later as an Academic Consultant for Art and Design programs at Hull University. Paul is based near Malton, North Yorkshire.Download Legacy catalogue
'The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.' (Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory)
The French philosopher Henri Bergson devoted his research to studying memory and how people reflect on the past. In his book Matter and Memory, Bergson suggests, that we do not only know ourselves 'from without', through perception, but also 'from within', through affection. Similarly, Paul Clifford's work with war memories is not only objective and centred around historical research, but also rooted in his personal connection to the depicted events via his father. This feeds into the sensitivity and gentleness with which Paul unites the opposites of historical and contemporary, monochrome and colourful, war and peace.
Especially for his exhibition in Beverley Art Gallery, Paul's reimagining of the 'line in the sand' took the form of a site-specific sand installation, a tribute to Islamic aesthetics as well as a materialised memory of what became a long-lasting source of struggle in the Middle East. A three dimensional variant of his paintings, the installation pays tribute to the immersive beauty of the desert and reflects on the divisive Sykes-Picot Agreement which irreversibly changed its character.
Paul's eclectic mix of techniques includes collage, silkscreen, painting and image transfer, just to name a few, featured on handmade paper, boards or in the case of larger pieces, birch wood panels. Newspaper clippings and archival material mix and merge with geometric patterns, fluidly transforming into outbursts of painterly colour. The 'real' world of historical facts, captured by the photographs, transcends into imaginary abstract landscapes, further highlighted by the underlying rhythmic patterns of Islamic ornaments, creating a dreamy and surreal sensation.
Paul transforms the memories conserved in archival materials and gives them a new life. The seeming solidity of the photographed past loosens up under Paul's brush, opening up to a new fresh rhythm and acquiring new meanings. Like in Bergson's view, the past, present and future are closely linked; the future depending on our interpretation of the past. Personal as well as societal and political events do not exist in separation, but rather evolve from actively reflecting on the past and reimaging our understanding of it. This process is fittingly captured in Paul's artistic method.
The Legacy exhibition in Beverley Art Gallery showcases the vibrant range of Paul's style, building on his extensive experience in both art and academia. Bringing together a deep personal and academic insight into the topic, Paul's exhibition offers a fresh as well as touching take on a deeply transformative moment in history.
A hundred years is both a long and a short time.
A century ago, as the First World War drew to a close, my father, Wilfred Clifford, sailed back to England from Egypt where he had served within the East Yorkshire Yeomanry as part of the Desert Expeditionary Force, protecting colonial routes through the Suez Canal.
Family snapshots and photographs of EYR troops from the Treasure House archives have formed the basis of this exhibition. 'Found Images' are often my starting point, becoming recycled in mixed media paintings and prints. I am interested in finding how an image from the past can have a second life, so it can be seen as both old and new at the same time.
Faded photographs of mounted cavalry reflect a bygone era, whilst childhood memories of my father's knowledge of horses and stories of swimming in the Nile by moonlight, connect a distant image to a real person.
The story underpinning Britain's role in the Middle East also reaches into our present day. In 1916, the Anglo-French 'Sykes-Picot Agreement' redrew the map of the region with a single pencil stroke. This 500 mile straight line carve-up of territory was a division of land that ignored Arab interests and is partly responsible for the conflicts that have raged there ever since.
A century later, my artworks explore the legacy of family memories and historical facts, searching for a visual synthesis of opposites, integrating photographs and abstract brushwork, alongside the controlled geometric structures of Islamic pattern. Bringing differences together, alluding to a bridging of division and hope for peace.
Many of the images in the Paul Clifford exhibition incorporate elements of images to be found in the photograph album of Captain Robert Spence Stephenson (1883-1958). The album is to be found in the collections of East Riding Archives (reference DDX1698). The photographs in this album offer a unique insight into the experiences of the East Riding Yeomanry (ERY) during their time in Egypt and Palestine in 1916-1918.
Of Grange Farm, Goodmanham, before the war Stephenson worked on the family farm breeding and training horses. A farm bailiff at Goodmanham in the 1911 census. He joined the ERY in 1903 as a private. A Sergeant Major with the Pocklington troop ('D' squadron), he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 3/12/1914 . Promoted to Lieutenant on 20th August 1916. He served in Egypt and Palestine and then in the Machine Gun Corps on the western front, returning to the ERY in June 1920. After the war, Stephenson went back to farming, serving in the Home Guard during World War II.
See Museums Online for a detailed research project on the regiment and its men - https://www.eastridingmuseums.co.uk/museums-online/yeomanry/
Objects Relating to the Exhibition
'The Line in the Sand' installation was commissioned specifically for Beverley Art Gallery. Approximately 12 bags of kiln dried fine sand were used to create the 4 x 6 metre work, totalling 240 kilos of sand to cover 24 square metres!
The technique of "dusting" the pigment through a stencil onto the sand surface was devised specially for the installation. Powdered red pigment was applied through a laser-cut stencil based on Islamic pattern.
The technique was in part inspired by the Buddhist tradition of sand mandala painting that are ritualistically dismantled after completion. The installation took 3 days to complete. Construction presented various practical challenges requiring devising on the spot solutions, such as how to reach all parts of the surface area without disturbing the very fragile surface? Various "Heath Robinson" methods were pioneered for "hovering" precariously above the surface!
The conceptual theme of the work alludes to the colonial division of land resulting from Sykes-Picot agreement that dramatically divided the Arab world.
A Brief History of the East Riding Yeomanry
(1903-1918) by Dr. David Marchant
The Boer Wars in South Africa (1899-1902) had exposed the British Army's lack of good quality mounted troops both for home defence and service abroad. It was to remedy this shortage that the ERY and other yeomanry regiments were set up. Yeomanry were volunteer cavalry units, first raised for home defence during the Napoleonic wars. The term "Yeoman" originally meant a moderately prosperous independent farmer.
Initial recruitment was by public meetings at Beverley, Driffield and Hull in 1902, at which Lord Wenlock (of Escrick, near Selby) was the speaker. He became the unit's first Colonel - hence the nickname "Wenlock's horse" that the ERY acquired. The strength of the regiment was set at 30 officers and 566 other ranks. A few regular officers and non-commissioned officers were drafted in to provide some initial professional support, as all of the men were volunteers and in most cases would have had no previous military experience.
The ERY was divided into four squadrons, designated A, B, C and D, along with a machine gun section. They were based at Hull, Beverley, Fulford (near York) and Bridlington respectively. In 1907 the ERY became part of the Territorial Force (later renamed the Territorial Army) and from then on all equipment was supplied by the War Office.
When they signed up (for a minimum of four years), Yeomen committed to a period of 16 days training each year. This took place at a different location each year (for example Scarborough in 1907, Pocklington in 1908). Initially, men had to bring their own horses, it being assumed that those in rural areas would have easy access to horses - men recruited in Hull probably faced more difficulties, although familiarity with horses was more widespread than it is in Britain today.
In autumn 1915, at the final camp at Costessey near Norwich, there was a call for volunteers to go on active service (this was required at the time, as Territorials had not originally signed up for service overseas). Those men who did not volunteer were retained for home service in what became the 2/1st ERY. For a time it seemed that the ERY might be sent to Gallipoli. The regiment's horses were taken away and infantry training was hastily brought in - including digging trenches. Luckily this decision was soon reversed and although the unit's destination was not revealed at this time, the issue of tropical service uniforms might well have given the troops a strong hint that they were bound for the Mediterranean theatre of war.
After a sea voyage from Southampton to Alexandria in Egypt, via Gibraltar and Malta), the ERY was destined to spend most of 1916 in the Fayoum oasis, guarding against possible attacks on caravan routes by a troublesome local tribe - the Senussi - who had pro-German sympathies.
The ERY's existence in the Fayoum, particularly for those on desert patrols was hot, uncomfortable and probably very dull. Only when they got back to base camp in August 1916 was it possible to enjoy a plentiful supply of water and hot food - including bacon and eggs! Considerable numbers of men left the ERY in this period, partly because their periods of service had expired. Although new recruits did trickle in via the reserve units (the 2/1st and 3/1st ERY), the 1/1st undoubtedly suffered from losing many of its experienced NCO's and men at this time. Others transferred into different regiments in search of more active service. A large contingent joined the newly formed Imperial Camel Corps and some of these later served with Lawrence of Arabia in his "Army of Arabs".
The Turks had made attempts to reach the Suez Canal in 1915/1916, but had been repulsed. The British remained on the defensive initially, but steadily built up forces, before advancing across Sinai to the Egypt/Palestine border. Here they came up against heavily defended positions around the town of Gaza. During the course of 1917 the British made three attempts to force this position. In the 1st battle (March 1917) the ERY passed around Gaza to attack it from the rear, but were forced back by Turkish shelling. In the 2nd battle (April 1917) the British lost 6400 men in frontal attacks against numerically superior forces. Harold Lyon's squadron of the ERY was bombed by enemy planes during this action. Finally, with the arrival of General Allenby as British commander, a third assault on Gaza (in October/November 1917) by 88,000 troops was successful.
During this 3rd battle, the ERY was involved in outflanking manoeuvres to the east of Gaza and then cut the railway to Jerusalem, trying to prevent the Turks from withdrawing. At El Mughar on 13th November, the ERY was involved in one of the last cavalry charges of the British army, galloping over two miles of open ground, seizing a Turkish position on a ridge and capturing 70 prisoners, along with two machine guns. Several hard weeks of campaigning in the stony, waterless Judean hills followed, during which the regiment had to dismount, as the terrain was completely unsuitable for horses.
The British marched into Jerusalem on 11th December 1917. By then, the ERY had already been withdrawn from the front line for a rest and was subsequently re-trained as part of a new Machine Gun Corps battalion (brigaded with the Lincolnshire Yeomanry)
The Machine Gun element of the 1/1st ERY remained in the Middle East for the duration of the war as part of the Machine Gun Corps (Cavalry), whilst the rest of the regiment was transferred to the Western Front in France in May 1918. There they served as something of a fire fighting force, supporting a number of assaults on German lines in the Cambrai/Valenciennes area until the Armistice in November 1918. Most of the ERY were demobilised and sent home within a few months of the end of hostilities. In all, perhaps around 225 ERY men had died or were killed during the war, including those who had transferred to other regiments and some deaths at home. Of these around 35 deaths occurred in the Middle East theatre and nearly 30 as a result of the sinking by German U-boats of the HMT Arcadian in the Aegean (in 1917) and the RMS Leinster in the Irish Sea (in 1918). The regiment had certainly 'done its bit' and proved as tough as any regular army unit.
Dr. Marchant is employed by East Riding of Yorkshire Council as museums registrar and archaeology curator. He has produced a detailed study of the men of the East Riding Yeomanry and has a long standing interest in military history in general.