Roland Pitchforth’s painting, ‘Building Speedboats’ shows three men dressed in overalls working assiduously beneath the red hull of a boat under construction. One man, seated on a box, drills the side of the hull, while his companions crouch down awkwardly in the space. Shavings of red paint curl at their feet. Their identical upturned round faces and slicked back hair gives each figure a strange artificial appearance, as if they were dolls or puppets. The theatricality of the scene is heightened by the fall of light from the naked bulb on the floor, elongating the men’s shadows to create a dramatic depiction of a routine wartime activity.
Working as an Official War Artist during the Second World War, Pitchforth produced a range of work at numerous postings including at the Ministries of Information and Home Security. Stationed in Plymouth in 1941, he observed and recorded the activities of RAF Mount Batten and the city’s boat yards and factories. A year later, he began producing a series of work depicting underground control rooms. 'Building Speedboats’ is one of several works made in 1943, while the artist was assigned to the Admiralty. In the final year of the war, Pitchforth was sent to the Far East where he witnessed the culmination of the Burma campaign. Several of his watercolours and paintings, along with works by other Official War Artists, were allocated to the Government Art Collection in 1946 by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee.
Roland Vivian Pitchforth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire and studied there and in Leeds up to 1915. After the First World War, he returned to Leeds, then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (RCA, 1921–1925). Until 1939 he taught at Camberwell and Clapham Schools of Art and the RCA. He joined the London Artists' Association and the London Group in the late 1920s. As an Official War Artist in the Second World War, Pitchforth worked for the Ministry of Information and Home Security, drawing RAF activities, boat yards, factories, control rooms and tanks. He witnessed the Burma campaign in the Far East in 1945, then briefly lived in South Africa. On his return, he taught art and became a Royal Academician (1953).
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