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The painting is partly inspired by Jean-Francois Millet’s painting of the same title (1857) in which rural workers are bent to the task of collecting the last scraps of wheat after harvest. The workers in my painting are engaged in more mysterious tasks, but seem to be searching for something in a desert landscape, digging and sifting through the sand amongst partly ruined columns. Many of my paintings are concerned with the ‘war on terror’ and on the confusion and disappointment found in the desert by western forces – they cannot understand, and are not prepared for, the strangeness they find there. The ‘gleaners’ in my painting are searching not for wheat but for meaning, a way to comprehend the ruination and confusion left by the wars.
Ben Tankard, 2012