Ray Beattie – Image for a Dead Man

Death through absence. Vietnam veteran Ray Beattie’s controversial 1980 painting “Image for a Dead Man” expresses a soldier’s grief at the loss of comrades and a statement about the repercussions of war. Lest We Forget.

Originally from Belfast, Ray Beattie arrived in Australia in 1967. In 1969 he was called up for National Service and after training was posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR). He served with 8 Platoon, Charlie Company, 2 RAR in South Vietnam during its Second Tour in 1970-1971. His painting, Image for a Dead Man, was completed in 1980 whilst Ray was living in Fremantle. 

Image for a dead man
Ray Beattie. ‘Image for a dead man’ (1980).   Synthetic polymer paint, collage on canvas.  Framed: 220.5 cm x 147.4 cm x 10.6 cm.   AWM Accession Number:  ART40885

Image for a Dead Man is a large still-life painted in the photo-realist style and is part of series of three paintings by Beattie collectively titled Sentimentality Kills which comment on the repercussions of war on Australian society.  But, this is the most personal of the three (the other two being held in the collections of the  Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria) and is a direct reflection of his own experience following his service as an infantryman in Vietnam.

All the elements in the composition are selected and arranged to show the tangible traces of somebody who is no longer there.  The uniform jacket hung across the back of the chair still holds the shape of the wearer.  The cord behind the chair and an empty telephone socket,  symbolising disconnect and that the person is forever out of reach. The cold white wall behind the chair signifies the nothingness that is death. 

The Australian War Memorial, which holds the painting in it’s art collection provides the following description

Beattie places a wooden chair against a cold grey wall; over it, draped the army jacket he wore in Vietnam. Painted on the left breast are his [Ray Beattie’s] service medals and an actual infantry Combat Badge is pinned on the right side. Beattie paints his slouch hat and identity discs hanging from the back of the chair and a folded flag on the seat. An unplugged telephone socket and line are shown at the bottom of the painting. There is no person present but the jacket holds the shape of a wearer and the discs indicate an individual personality once existed. The painting addresses the impossibility of communication with the dead by the inclusion of the symbolic disconnected telephone line. Although Beattie survived the war, he has said that whenever he heard of another soldier’s death he felt a part of himself also died. This feeling of loss is reinforced by the fact that the empty uniform is the artist’s. A curious inscription on the back of the painting shows a completed game of ‘hangman’. The words to be discovered would have spelt Beattie’s name but the figure on the gallows has been finished before more than a few letters have been guessed: ‘game over’.

When it was acquired by the Australian War Memorial, the painting generated some controversy with protests that the work was seen as derogatory towards the Australians who served. One protestor wrote to the AWM  stating ‘…artistic licence and abstract interpretation are completely out of place in a Memorial where the established forte is stark realism and accuracy of presentation’ (1).  In pushing for a flag waving, heroic and jingoistic representation of the war  the protests often ignored that the work was made by a veteran, reflective of his personal experience and a comment on war, not those who are sent out to fight, but those who do the sending. Lest We Forget.

Ray Beattie 2RAR 1971 1
Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. May 1971.  Private Ray Beattie carrying the section’s M60 machine gun during C Company, 2RAR /NZ (ANZAC)’s final operation in Vietnam before returning to Australia later in the month. Other members of the section are spread out to his left. The soldier closest to Pte Beattie is carrying a 7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and also a belt of ammunition for the M60 machine gun. Photo: John Alfred Ford.  AWM Accession Number: FOD/71/0258A/VN

2 RAR’s second tour of Vietnam 1970 – 1971.

This overview of the battalion’s second tour of Vietnam is an excerpt reproduced from the 2 RAR Association page. 

On 15 May 70, 2RAR relieved 6RAR in South Vietnam and resumed the title of ANZAC Battalion. Three Australian rifle companies plus V and W Companies, additional Support Company elements and a Bn 2IC from New Zealand completed the Battalion. A significant percentage of those on the Manning Chart had been there before.

During the Tour, the Battalion embarked on seven operations. Except for a two-week break in September all of the operations were back to back so the pace throughout was intense. Their enemy was primarily LF. Both Battalions D440 and D445 were encountered as well as D65 Engineers NVA and the Chau Duc District HQ and LF Company. An additional task of training and operating with Regional forces and a neighboring Thai Battalion was successful but too short lived to influence events long term. The support for those activities had to come from largely within the Battalion and was conducted in tandem with the Battalion’s normal operations.

There were 14 names added to the Battalion’s Honour Roll by the end of the tour. They comprised eight Australians and six New Zealanders. Booby traps and mines accounted for most of these as well as several accidental deaths.

4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) took over operational responsibility from 2RAR in May 71.

Ray Beattie 2 RAR Historical Collection
July 2022. Artist Ray Beattie standing next to a display that replicates his painting at the 2 RAR Historical Collection. After being discharged from the Army to Perth in 1971, Ray studied at Claremont Technical School from 1971 to 1973 and printmaking at Perth Technical College in 1974. He was appointed tutor in printmaking at Western Australian Institute of Technology 1975. In 1978 he studied at the Victorian College of the Arts where he later became artist-in-residence. In 1981 he was tutor in printmaking at the Western Australian Institute of Technology and later in that year was artist-in-residence at Griffith University, Queensland. He continues to maintain his arts practice and works in colour etching, aquatint and screen-prints. He also exhibits paintings and sculpture. Ray has items in most state gallery collections around Australia  Photo: 2 RAR Historical Collection Facebook Page

Author: juleswings

Military insignia collector / researcher, with an interest in airborne and special operations units, para wings & badges.

One thought on “Ray Beattie – Image for a Dead Man”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: