It’s a little tricky to unveil a camouflaged ship, but although enemies would have had a hard time pinning down HMS President during the First World War due to its extraordinary paint job, visitors to Victoria Embankment will hardly be able to miss the gargantuan warship which is moored there as part of the war’s centenary programme.
HMS President is one of three surviving ships that were built during the conflict, in this case 1918, and the makeover is the work of Tobias Rehberger. The artist was commissioned by Chelsea College of Art and Design, Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool to give the old Royal Navy campaigner a “dazzle camouflage” makeover. It looks like a thoroughly modern design, but the concept is rooted in naval history, having been put into practice in 1917 by maritime painter Norman Wilkinson following an initial idea suggested by scientist John Graham Kerr three years earlier. Dazzle painting was a way of confusing the enemy ships, as the eye-tricking designs when viewed out at sea made it hard to target the ship accurately. Dazzle painting is a speciality of German-born Rehberger, who won the Venice Biennale Golden Lion award in 2009 for painting the inside of an entire café in the style.