“Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste death but once”
Julius Caesar – by William Shakespeare
McKay’s series of paintings are a thought-provoking depiction of a ‘firing squad’ line of toy soldiers set against a backdrop of young boys’ wallpaper. The inspiration for the set of five still lives came when McKay was in his shed painting objects belonging to his recently deceased father. In digging around for further objects to commit to canvas he stumbled across the toy soldiers his own son played with when he was a boy.
When he began painting them in 2010 news reports on the radio were reporting an unprecedented number of fatalities amongst the British soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It seemed to be constant”, notes McKay of the deaths, “the reports would end with ‘and the family have been informed’, which I think is quite abrupt as the news reaches the population while another family experiences a devastated feel of numb loss. The predominant age of the soldiers was 22, co-incidentally the same age as one of McKay’s sons at the time. “Obviously they’re overseas because this is their chosen profession – to bravely protect and serve their country – but to me it’s like putting young people in the front of a firing squad.”
Painting in striking oils, the lines of plastic figures are shown from five different perspectives as McKay stood twelve, ten, eight, six and five paces from his subject matter. The result is that the series of five images increase in intensity as the soldiers appear to move closer and closer. Behind them the wallpapers, made by McKay especially to place behind the plastic soldiers in his still life set ups, depict designs such as Thundercats, Dangermouse, Euro ’96 and characters from Toy Story. McKay decided on the designs by asking his son and his son’s friends which wallpaper they had on their bedroom walls when they were children. The papers’ childhood designs serve to emphasise the youth of the dying soldiers and evocatively remind us that they too are, someone’s son.
Oil Paint on timber structure with stretched canvas