Friday, November 22, 2013

100th Post: Des Bettany's "Gene Tierney" and other Sketches: the Enduring Importance of Film

I thought long and hard about what I would post for my 100th blog entry. I wanted it to be something interesting, momentous, but more importantly, I wanted the piece I cover to really apply to "The Art of Film," itself. Last week, I managed to find something that applied perfectly.
Somehow, I stumbled upon a site that was devoted to Des Bettany, a British soldier who was a POW under the Japanese during World War II. His life story is quite remarkable, and I encourage you to read it through the link provided below. During his internment (1942-1945), he was able to create a masterful and varied portfolio of art, with sketches and watercolors ranging from caricatures of his captors to detailed and nostalgic landscapes. His work is quite lovely, especially considering he was really only a talented amateur. Later, he did study art in England, and later married and became a beloved art teacher and education administrator in Australia.
Des on the beach
I was fascinated by his life story, and when I began browsing through his work (which is beautifully cataloged on the site), I was delighted to find that Des had drawn and painted some film-related work. These pieces, inspired me tremendously. For one, they are remarkably good sketches. But more importantly, to me, they embodied the whole idea of my blog. Film is not only an art in itself, it inspires art, making it all more enduring.
A lovely nostalgic countryside scene
This painting, contemplating his return home, shows influences
of Art Deco and contemporary designs
But there's something more than that. Film helps people beyond merely entertaining them. Film can comfort us; film can distract us from our problems; film can remind us of our humanity. I think that Des turned to  art, and in a secondary way, his memories of films and stars, to help him endure through the cruel, unforgiving, and bleak world he was living through a POW. His art, which portrays his friends, home, and other comforts, served to relieve his suffering as a POW. I think its a testament to the films of the time that such memories could provide that relief.

In particular, I'm going to concentrate on two particular sketches. The first is a rather lovely caricature of the beautiful Gene Tierney that Des painted in 1942. Gene Tierney is a rather apropos subject for my 100th post because my first post was about Laura, her most famous role. This painting is, I believe, based on a publicity still of Gene from her role in 1940's The Return of Frank James, a western film. Gene, of course, was a strikingly gorgeous woman and would no doubt have been remembered by the lonely Des.

The second painting I would like to mention a painting of a star that the site identifies as either Ginger Rogers or Lauren Bacal. I am almost certain that this painting is of Ginger Rogers based on her appearance in the Astaire/Rogers musical Roberta. In that particular film, she danced to "Smoke Gets your Eyes" in a slinky black dress like the subject of this painting. I don't know, something about it to me just screams Ginger, and I would say (with almost certainty) that it's her.
Sketch of Des by a fellow soldier/artist
Ronald Searle
Des's work is absolutely wonderful. And his paintings of Hollywood stars are a reminder of, not only the contemporary popularity of the films and the stars of the day, but also the power that film has. It inspires beautiful art, like Des' work. It even inspires beautiful writing. Like mine.

I'm so glad to have reached 100 posts and I'm so glad I've been able to share this much with my reading public. It's been a little more than a year that I've been doing it, and I've had an absolute blast. I hope you, my readers, enjoy my work as much as I do. Here's to the next 100!

The Changi POW Art of Des Bettany


  1. Thanks for your lovely comments about my dad. We found hundreds of painting he did in Changi to keep his sanity in his cupboard and decided to have a website developed to promote his work during such a horrific time,
    Keith Bettany

    1. Your father is not only incredibly talented, he is truly inspirational. The fact that he was able to maintain a sense and love of beauty despite all his hardships is a wonderful testament to the human spirit. I'm glad you found my post and I hope you found it a fitting tribute to such a great man.

    2. Yes, thank you so much, as a family, we are trying to spread the word of these amazing works. After the war dad attended Leeds School of Art and taught tertiary art for the rest of his life. We immigrated to Australia as a family in 1958 where dad worked at the South Australian School of Art, retiring as Acting Principal.


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