As a Canadian artist, The Journey to Remembrance, was inspired by these many journeys: my own, my family, my community, my country and world events during the dark time of First World War. The three soldiers embody the spirit of all those who fought and died for us. They are also symbolic of our remembering and gratitude for all of these freedoms that we often take for granted. The sky is influenced by a line in the Ode to Remembrance poem, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” As the colour of the poppies come to life in the foreground, it is representative of the passage of time since WWI.
During the ten months bringing the painting to completion, I reflected on my own journey of understanding that started off in place of naivety…going through the motions of wearing the poppy on Remembrance Day and flourishes into being emboldened as an artist to do more than simply wear a poppy.
My parents seemingly had no ties to the military and memories of my school’s yearly Remembrance Day ceremonies are vague. These ambiguous recollections follow me to the optional Grade 11 history class. I preferred the free time so I skipped out on the WWI and WWII learning. My older brothers played with toy guns, the game Risk and Battleship - a glorification of fighting in my eyes that I could not understand.
At 19, while backpacking through Europe, I met an Australian girl who shared her desire to travel to Gallipoli where the Anzacs had fought in the First World War. I had visited the concentration camp of Dechau, Germany but couldn’t comprehend visiting battlefields. This likely stemmed from my lack of connection to these events at the time.
Four years later, in 1996, I met my New Zealand husband-to-be whose infectious smile stole my heart. Murray was a Veteran from his time in the Royal New Zealand Navy. The first movie we watched together was Gallipoli. In 1998, we watched another war movie, Saving Private Ryan. It was during the first ten minutes of watching those young ‘boys’ puke with fear over the side of the boat, ruthlessly shot at with many falling to their death. This rattled me to my core. I became a mother in 2005 to a beautiful boy. How had those mothers felt when their sons left and never came back or came back no longer their sweet little boys ever again?
While my son was young, we lived in Australia for a time. This lead onto the completion of my painting, “A Minute Silence”, a 2013 finalist for the prestigious Australian Gallipoli Art Prize. This visual story within a headstone was deeply inspired by my husband’s Grandfather, James Sinton, who had not only fought at Gallipoli, but also Somme and Passchendaele. This painting also tells the story of the relationship between the Anzacs and the Turkish people - foes who become entwined as family forever. James Sinton later lived to 101, the 3rd to last surviving New Zealand Gallipoli Veteran at the time. I did not meet him yet his legacy lives on through our children.
In 2015, as a family we travelled to Gallipoli for the 100-year commemorations and tour the battlefields. The foreshadowing of meeting and hearing the young Australian’s desire to do such a trip rang clear in my mind. I had learned so much in 26 years and knew my children’s journey to remembrance was vastly different than my own.
Having lived amongst these New Zealand and Australian ANZACs for years now – I felt their passion and comprehension about their history day to day, not just on April 25th, their ANZAC Day. As a Canadian, I was somewhat embarrassed, and even ashamed thinking of my own earlier perceptions. My feelings of “wearing the poppy didn’t seem enough” anchored to my gift of creating art collided when Murray suggested I do a First World War commemorative painting. I took up the challenge with caution but persevered. When the first Veteran thanked me for creating this vision on canvas, I cannot put into words how generous that felt.
The day after completing the painting in September 2016, my family and I travelled to France and attended the 100th New Zealand commemorations at the Battle of Somme – a very reflective time having just completed this emotional painting. We paid our respects at the Canadian memorials of Beaumont-Hamel and Courcelette. Then in 2017 as a family, we visited the somber yet magnificent Canadian National Vimy Memorial. These monuments with their pleasant Canadian touches gave me a sense of peace not only for those who fought there but also for myself having finally arrived at these places. Symbolic gestures of my own journey to remembrance.
The quest I began and completed with one brushstroke further enhanced my own path of learning and paying tribute and showing gratitude every day, not just on Remembrance Day.
My intention is for this image to inspire its viewers in their own personal way to reflect upon their own journey to remembrance and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We will all have different journeys but the crucial part is to arrive at the same genuine understanding.
Canadian artist, Deanna Lavoie, BFA.
The Journey to Remembrance is currently on loan to the Military Museums of Calgary.