Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Few, The Proud, The Artists

I saw this in the WSJ this morning, and thankfully it's one of the few articles available for free online. It's an article about Warrant Officer Michael Fay, the Marine Corps' official combat artist. Fay is the Corps' only current combat artist. He's been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, with his primary mission being depicting a soldier's eye view of the wars there.

In the field, Warrant Officer Fay often sketches in pencil or takes photographs to use as models for paintings, especially if the firing is heavy. He grants himself painterly license to create an image that is authentic, but not always literal. Once he used dirt from the battlefield to make the proper colored pigment for a watercolor of a Humvee ambulance churning its way through the historic Iraqi city of Babylon.

Warrant Officer Fay sees beauty where others might see just destruction. During three days at Observation Post Horea, he hung out with the grunts, the front-line infantrymen, and reveled in the brass spiral of machine-gun belts, the subtle green-on-green jigsaw puzzle of a sandbag wall, and the hidden stories of spent bullet casings in the concrete rubble. The sun streaming through the IV bottles, as they awaited wounded men, reminded him of the glistening quality of Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring."

In the outpost's front compound, an area the infantrymen cross at a sprint to avoid Iraqi sharpshooters, he crouched behind a generator to sketch the sandbagged guardpost at the main gate and the crumpled building beyond it. "This is about as far out on the tip of the spear as you can get -- Post One at O.P. Horea," he said. He was drawn to the landscape of mud and broken pallets, sand bags and shattered walls. "I was sort of hoping there were no snipers," he said after completing his sketch.

The infantrymen consider him something of a curiosity on the battlefield, but they generally like his work. "Did you go to school for that, sir?" asked Cpl. Jonhatan Covarrubias, peeking at the sketches.

Warrant Officer Fay did, of course, but at the same time, he remains very much a Marine. He was eating a ready-to-eat chicken-and-noodles meal for dinner recently when the outpost came under attack, from suspected rocket launchers on one side and automatic weapons fire on the other. He hurriedly put on his helmet and flak vest and raced to the roof with his assault rifle, but not his sketchpad.

"When it's hitting the fan, you don't want to miss out on the opportunity to fire back," he said.

Although in WWI and to a lesser extent WW2 all the services had official combat artists, apparently the Corps is the only service still to maintain the role. I'd love to see more of his work from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if there will ever be a book put out, or if you can only see it by going to one of the Corps museums.

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