Breaking the Code: Faces of Conflict and the resumption of Project Facade

Throughout 2014, Paddy has been working as Artist in Residence in the College of Humanities at Exeter University at the invitation of Professor David Houston Jones. His residency features as part of a much broader series of events (1914FACES2014) examining the culture and legacy of facial difference, particularly in relation to Les Gueules cassées. After a 7-year hiatus, Paddy has resumed ‘Project Facade’ and this new work will premiere at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) on Friday 16th January 2015 in the group exhibition, ‘Faces of Conflict’ curated by Cristina Burke-Trees.


A focus of Paddy’s work over the past 12 years has concentrated on the researching the lives of some of the Commonwealth servicemen who underwent pioneering facial surgery during WW1 at the hand of surgical pioneer Sir Harold Gillies. The surgery Gillies developed to treat the horrific life changing facial injuries sustained by so many servicemen during and after WW1 facilitated enormous advances to be made in Oral maxillofacial surgery, skin grafting and prosthetic design. 

Faces of Battle, National Army Museum Chelsea. 2007

Paddy was fortunate to receive major funding from The Wellcome Trust in 2004, enabling him to research in depth under the project name ‘Project Facade’, the stories of 10 servicemen treated by Gillies. Using military uniforms, fabric manipulation and digital embroidery Paddy embellished these garments with findings on the early lives of these men, the circumstances in which they were injured, the methods used to repair and reconstruct the face, and then describe how each individual moved forward with the help of their families to live as much of a normal life as possible. Gillies treated over 5000 servicemen and Paddy’s initial selection of 10 gave a snapshot of the experiences of the many.


In 2007 Paddy co-curated ‘Faces of Battle’ at the National Army Museum which presented the uniforms telling the fragmented life stories of a selection of Gilles patients, in context with a historical study of the foundation of the plastic surgery unit founded by Gillies at Sidcup, along with many of the advances in treatment which were pioneered at the unit. His uniform sculptures have since toured internationally, visiting Australia, Holland, Norway, Germany and the USA and are in the permanent collection of The Museum of Arts and Design New York, and The Wellcome Collection London.


The focus of Paddy’s residency for 1914FACES2014 has been to revisit the story of one of the servicemen about whom he made artistic responses for Project Facade and whose story he has continued researching in the intervening years. Plymouth born sailor Walter Ernest O’Neil Yeo was badly burned in the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916. Despite restoring function to Walter’s badly burned face, surgeon Gillies acknowledged mistakes in the treatment, making his story quite unique. Paddy was able to trace relatives of Walter who generously shared memories of a man with a very unique history of considerable significance.


The new work Paddy will be presenting in Faces of Conflict at RAMM will consist of a new diptych describing the events which impacted on the life Walter Yeo featuring a naval uniform and for the first time, a vintage hospital of the type patients wore at the Sidcup clinic. Both sets of garments feature fabric manipulation, digital embroidery, appliqué and heavy burning and branding of fabric. To compliment the garments, Paddy has created an installation of naval signalling flags in the form of a freeform crossword puzzle detailing significant moments, memories, events and words relating to Walter’s life. Signalling flags are traditionally used to communicate over a distance and in this instance, serve as a metaphor for telling a story from the past. In later years Walter became a crossword compiler for national newspapers.


This is the first time these works will be presented publicly, but they are by no means complete. Throughout the centenary period marking the start and end of WW1, Paddy will continue to add new words to the Yeo crossword and likewise, the embroidered garments will be added to and new garments will be created to further describe the life of a very special man.

It wouldn't have been possible to develop these new works without the support of Professor David Houston Jones, Curator Cristina Burke-Trees and Dr Marjorie Gerhardt, the team at Exeter University and RAMM for which Paddy is eternally grateful. Finally, special thanks are extended to all of Walter’s extended family and Shelia Yeo from the Yeo Society who contributed so generously to the making of the work.

Look out for further updates throughout the week including installation, preview and press coverage.