Thursday, March 31, 2011

Witness Art

Lance Corporal Tyler Huffman, McGuire VA Hospital, Richmond, Virginia
Corporal Zach Stinson (now Sergeant), McGuire VA Hospital, Richmond, Virginia
Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, McGuire VA Hospital, Richmond, Virginia

The primary criteria for membership in the International Society of War Artists is very simple: the artist must have gone to war and created art. The type of art created is not a determining factor. War art is witness art.

With the Joe Bonham Project we are asking civilian artists back home to go and do art of our wounded warriors; those battle-wounded service members who are still in the fight. We, as artists, can be a visual voice speaking of their courage and sacrifice. We can keep these fellow Americans visible and their experiences viable.

Witness art is reportage art with a poetic voice. The artist and the time spent creating cannot be distilled out of the images. With the Joe Bonham Project we are striving to fashion images at once journalistic and profoundly personal.

Our aim is to be neither pro-war or anti-war. We are not here to politicize the service members we are portraying. We are here to humanize them and give them a presence beyond the walls of their hospital rooms and therapeutic clinics.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wounded Warrior Battalion East

The Marine Corps has an active duty regiment devoted to their wounded warriors. It's called the Wounded Warrior Regiment and it has two battalions. Battalion East is located aboard Marine Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Battalion West is at Camp Pendleton in California. Last month a very talented Marine, Lance Corporal Rob Bates, went to the wounded warrior barracks of Battalion East and sketched two fellow Marines. You can read about his experiences and see his art at both his website and Facebook page. Bates is also completing a set of sensitive commemorative portraits of fallen comrades of his 8th Marine Regiment. Tomorrow Bates and I will be sketching together at Bethesda.

First Wounded Warrior Art Mission

In August of 2006, myself and Sergeant Kristopher Battles, as the two official combat artists for the Marine Corps, visited with and sketched Marines recovering at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda. Here is a selection of the art from that first wounded warrior art mission.

Unofficial Partners

The Joe Bonham Project is an outreach of the International Society of War Artists. ISWA is a small group of artists who, to put it as simply as possible, have gone to war and done art. We were first brought together in 2007 by Francis DiTommaso for an exhibit at the New York School of Visual arts called Testimony to War. Since then myself, Richard Johnson, Steve Mumford, Peter Buotte, Kris Battles, Conway Bown, Matthew Cook and Douglas Farthing have established our society.

On February 14 and 15 of this year, myself and Richard Johnson, traveled to the McGuire VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. For those two days we sketched and got to know three Marines. Our art and writings were featured in Canada's National Post, The New York Times and the United Kingdom's Guardian Newspaper. Please take some time to click on these links and read the articles and the comments left.

When my series of three pieces appeared in the NYTs, I was out in San Francisco with my University of Hartford MFA in Illustration program. Virtually all my fellow grad students are working illustrators and college educators. They, along with several of the guest presenters, expressed an interest in expanding on the wounded warrior reportage art that Richard and I had done. And so, The Joe Bonham Project began in earnest.

I met yesterday with key individuals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and the Department of Defense's Vietnam War Commemoration program. Both expressed keen interest and support for the Joe Bonham Project. The NMAH's military and diplomatic collection has agreed in principle to submit our project's artwork for accessioning into a collection of record. The VWC program would like Then and Now portraits of Vietnam veterans undergoing care at VA facilities. We hope that in the not too distant future these images will be featured in traveling exhibits.

Today I spoke with the editor of the Opinionator, and he will accept submissions of images and narrative material for consideration.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Joe Bonham Project

What is the Joe Bonham Project? It is a group of illustrators dedicated to recording the faces and experiences of America's returning wounded warriors.

Who is Joe Bonham? Joe Bonham is the central character in Dalton Trumbo's 1938 novel Johnny Got His Gun. The WWI doughboy, Joe Bonham, somewhere in the meat grinder of the Western Front, was horribly wounded by the blast of an artillery round. All that remains of Joe is his conscious humanity and the absolute minimum of bodily functions to support awareness. He has no face, eyes, ears, mouth, arms, legs or genitalia. Joe simply is.

Through the pages of Johnny Got His Gun we follow Joe as he becomes aware of the extent of his injuries, grapples with the pure existential horror of these realizations and miraculously begins to reach back out into the world of his fellow man. Long before Dr. Elizabeth Kuble-Ross articulated and popularized the grief cycle, Dalton Trumbo's Joe Bonham walks us from denial to acceptance.

Joe's ultimate goal is to have himself placed in a glass box and toured around the country as a living example of the reality of war, and the victorious transcendence of the human spirit. His wish is denied, and Joe is ingloriously spirited away to live out his days alone and forgotten.

With the Joe Bonham Project we will keep the dedication, sacrifices and indomitable spirit of our wounded warriors present and accounted for.