Richard Hamilton has made three diptych paintings relating to the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland. The citizen, 1981-3, The subject, 1988-90 and The state, 1993 which shows a British soldier on patrol.
The state expresses the unease of the army's equivocal position between the two warring groups in Northern Ireland, and the dual role the soldiers must play. The soldier is at once gun-wielding and defensive. Hamilton wanted to create the effect, in this picture, of the soldier walking backwards. It is a customary practice for British soldiers patrolling in Northern Ireland to walk back to back, some 100 yards apart, to ensure that they are covered in both directions. This idea also relates to the artist's perception that the British wish to get out of Northern Ireland. He represents the soldier as young and reluctant, a 'conscript'. Before Hamilton's birth, his father served in the British army during an earlier phase of the Irish troubles and conveyed to his son a sense of the warmth of the Irish people.