Richard Wentworth reflects on the First World War

A new poster by artist Richard Wentworth will be unveiled on the London Underground tomorrow as part of a cultural programme marking the centenary of the First World War. Using the Tube’s familiar Johnston font, it reproduces a letter written by a young soldier to his wife – but the text is reversed

A new poster by artist Richard Wentworth will be unveiled on the London Underground tomorrow as part of a cultural programme marking the centenary of the First World War. Using the Tube’s familiar Johnston font, it reproduces a letter written by a young soldier to his wife – but the text is reversed…

When You Look You May Not See is a co-commission betweeen Art on the Underground and 14-18 NOW, the UK-wide cultural programme which is marking 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. The words come from a postcard written by soldier Herbert Ernest Wilson to his wife Martha Emily Wilson towards the end of the conflict on September 4 1918.

In reversing the text, Wentworth has said that he hoped to emphasise the historical distance between the contemporary mass audience and the original experience of the Wilsons. On closer inspection, new readers become privvy to this intimate exchange between husband and wife.

Wentworth says that the Tube’s mix of public and private spaces was one of the ideas behind the work. “There is a lot of captive dawdling, with many standing at a habitual point each day,” he says. “The message of Herbert’s card and its frailty, banality and optimism is no different from the chatter one overhears in multiple languages on London transport.”

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