Combat artists

Combat artists


The art itself is a timeline of a period spent
getting to know the person you’re drawing. The key is, in a warzone regardless of conditions,
to produce art. As a tool for historical documentation, it
is timeless. There’s something about the intimacy of
the art that makes people care about stories they didn’t know they needed to care about. I’ve operated as a field artist for the
last fifteen years in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Congo, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic. I usually start with the eyes. You really just enter the whole person from
there. I’ve had a rocket fired at me. I’ve come under artillery in my time, I’ve
been stuck in a minefield. I’ve been shot at, and I’ve had vehicles
around me blow up with IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. So I guess I am a combat artist even though
I have never, through all of that, really felt at risk because of the amount of protection
that’s given to you. I will go anywhere that there’s a good story
to tell and that I think art can help. Richard Johnson whom I’ve been fortunate
enough to pair up with, he knows how to see a scenario, get the background information,
and tell a story through his artwork. And that’s something that I would love to
be able to do. When we embed with units and he’s able to
look over my shoulder at my drawings, there’s a lot of growth that comes out of that. Combat art is different from photography,
it is more intimate. And not that photographs can’t communicate
emotion, they can. The difference is that we were there and we
experienced it because a picture you can snap it in half a second and walk away and you
can not really know what’s going on and still get a good photo. But we had to get to know who we were drawing. Whether it be a gruesome medical scene or
just some high intense mission, you have to capture simply what you see. So we were very fortunate in Iraq. We were very well looked after by Marines. I think about five days in we lost our first
couple of guys. The bodies had to be retrieved from the river
they had been attempting to cross and I have a sketch of Sergeant Barringer sitting by
the river’s edge. That sketch, I think for me now looking back
at it fifteen years further on, you can still feel the pain in the sketch. As a sketch it’s absolutely poignant. We want people to be able to look at a drawing
and feel like ‘Wow,I wasn’t there but I’m really close.’ And so that’s part of the beauty of it all. We’re
leaving a piece of ourselves here in that trust, extending that to those that we are
interacting with. People are viewing it through a human lens
and that makes a difference.

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