Feb 18 2012: Two Webley Paper Targets for Competitive Pellet Gun Shooting (Date Unknown)

The target has become something of a design icon during the twentieth century though its origins – which seem largely mysterious – probably pre-date Modernism by several centuries, given that the form it takes (a series of roundels or circles of descending size) is likely to have evolved naturally from its purpose: that being to offer proof of accuracy in shooting, whether the projectiles of choice happen to be arrows, knives, darts or bullets. The idea that aim is improved as a marksman closes in on the smallest circle of all (the bullseye: does anyone out there know where that coinage came from?) dictates the form in a way that suggests that the target has evolved almost accidentally into perhaps the perfect Modernist emblem. The distinctive hard edges, restricted colour palette, sense of form entirely following function, would presumably make an object of some interest to the sensibilities that emerged at the Bauhaus, and since then – from Jasper Johns to sixties Mods, the Royal Air Force to an American supermarket chain – the target has become a kind of ubiquitous abstract sign. The examples seen above and below exist close to their source (in that they were printed as genuine paper practice targets to be shot with pellets from Webley’s own pistols and rifles) and utterly removed from it (in that neither has been used, and they now exist – as you look at them – in a non-physical form).  They are not identical, as there are almost imperceptible differences in the paper and print when they’re examined carefully, but they are as good as identical in most important respects. They were also found – for what it’s worth – inside the sleeves of two 12″ format 78rpm records featuring poems by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, as read (and read very well, it should be noted) by Carleton Hobbs and Hermione Hannen, which I suppose adds a further dimension: these particular targets were re-purposed to protect the delicate surfaces of shellac records rather than pinned to doors or trees and shot with pellets. I suppose there’s a certain ‘swords into ploughshares’ analogy in that circumstance and we can make of it pretty much whatever we please.


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