A retired pilot ship sits in a Liverpool dock, painted in vivid red, yellow and green stripes. This is a “Dazzle Ship”, decorated with a unique and eccentric British camouflage method originally developed during World War One.

The British navy had tried different methods of disguising ships, but none had proved effective. Realising that it must be impossible to successfully conceal a boat, marine artist Norman Wilkinson suggested a radical, opposite approach: a design that would instead confuse and disorientate the enemy, making it difficult for a U-boat commander to estimate the boat’s speed or direction. The Dazzle Ship was born.

The pilot ship currently on show in Liverpool is The Edmund Gardener, an exhibit of the Merseyside Maritime Museum. This month, it’s been given a makeover by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. The project to replicate Dazzle Ships is one of a series of arts commissions being planned in Britain to mark the centenary of World War One.

The Edmund Gardener looks even more impressive in these comparative before-and-after shots from the BBC:

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 2.22.46 PM

Screenshot: BBC News

Cruz-Diez was commissioned to design this modern-day Dazzle Ship by the official cultural programme for Britain’s First World War centenary commemorations. His irregular-striped paint job is true to the spirit of the original Dazzle Ship patterns, which were heavily inspired by Cubism and the British Vorticists.

▼ Picasso, on seeing one of the ships, is said to have quickly tried to claim the credit for the design.

SS_Empress_of_Russia_1918_croppedStewart Bale/Wikimedia

The efficiency of Dazzle ships was never really proven – there were too many different variables involved to assess how difficult they were for the enemy to take aim at – and although the technique was used again in World War Two, it gradually fell out of favour. Although the ships were originally designed with a functional objective, Cruz-Diaz sees them unequivocally as art:

“When I looked at Dazzle Ships they were artworks created for war and to avoid death, so I wanted to turn this into something reflecting the colour and energy of this city that represents life and light.”

▼ Edward Wadsworth’s Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool

Dazzle-ships_in_Drydock_at_LiverpoolEdward Wadsworth/Wikimedia

Over here in Japan, the photos of The Edmund Gardner have been making waves for a completely different reason. As netizens were quick to point out, the red, black and green stripes are immediately reminiscent of a number of nostalgic Japanese brands:

The first is Shōten, a long-running Sunday night comedy show in which comedians compete to say funny things and be rewarded with cushions:


The second is Kabuki-age, a kind of fried rice cracker:

51rjG6WCoJLAmazon JP

And last but not least – Nagatanien, a company that makes instant miso soup and ready-made packet mixes for o-chazuke (tea and toppings over rice).


As well as Cruz-Diaz’s snazzy striped number, another ship is to be “Dazzled” as part of the exhibition. The HMS President (1918) is one of only three surviving Royal Navy warships of the First World War. She will be given a makeover by German artist Tobias Rehberger, and the new design will be unveiled in London in July.

We’re looking forward to seeing what the Japanese internet makes of that one, too.

Sources: Itai nyūsu, artlyst, BBC News
Top image: BBC News