The war time work of one of East Anglia’s most well-known artists, Colin Moss, is to be featured in an exhibition celebrating the inventiveness of Britain’s camouflage officers - often known as ‘camoufleurs’ - which opens in Leamington Spa on 22nd July.
Born in Ipswich in 1914, Colin Moss was senior lecturer in figure drawing at Ipswich Art School from 1947-1979. During that time hundreds of students passed through his classes, among them Maggi Hambling and Brian Eno. In later life he worked as an art critic, whilst continuing to both paint and exhibit until his death in 2005.
When World War Two broke out Moss, like many artists, applied to the Ministry of Home Security to do camouflage work. Working on the camouflage of buildings and industrial installations, he was based at the Ministry’s Camouflage Establishment at Leamington Spa from 1939-1941.
Camoufleurs photographed or sketched sites from the air and then used these to develop schemes to either conceal installations or create nearby decoys to divert enemy aircraft. Elaborate designs for important sites often involved the production of three-dimensional scale models. These were tested in a ‘viewing room’ in the Skating Rink, where different lighting and atmospheric conditions could be artificially recreated.
If the intention was concealment, the objective was to cause the sites to merge in with their surroundings, while if it was deception, then a decoy site might involve creating dummy aerodromes or factories to mislead German bombers.
At its peak the camouflage directorate employed over 230 staff, including several who went on to become some of the most influential and distinguished artists and designers of their generation including Robin Darwin, Richard Guyatt, Christopher Ironside and Tom Monnington.
When his time at Leamington had come to an end, Moss was given a month’s paid leave to record his designs before being called up and transferred to active service in North Africa. A number of those paintings have been loaned by the Imperial War Museum to Leamington Spa and feature in the Concealment and Deception exhibition.
CONCEALMENT & DECEPTION: The Art of the Camoufleurs of Leamington Spa 1939 - 1945, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, 22 July – 16 October.