Artists draw on passion about war to inspire creations

April 20, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

A stark bomb. A scaly roach.

Doe-eyed children as killing machines.

All are recent statements about war, borne in the minds of local artists.

Barbara Chapman, who lives outside Shepherdstown, W.Va., painted the roach, an oil on canvas called "Taliban." Turn either your head or the painting sideways and you notice that each scale on the roach is actually a woman in a burka - a loose, veiled garment worn by Muslim women. Wide eyes stare through mesh slits.

Chapman, an adjunct teacher at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, said she keeps pace with war through her pieces - Vietnam, Iran vs. Iraq, Bosnia.


"People doing horrible things to each other," she said.

In her pieces, Chapman said, "Soldiers are shown in context of the brutal war."

Her aim is more to document than express.

"I want to mark this brutality," she said.

Andrea McCluskey, who teaches printmaking and design at Hood College in Frederick, Md., responded to the current war with a sharp, solitary image. It's a black and white poster of a bomb being dropped. The word "No" is written in red on the bomb.

McCluskey started with a piece of wood, sanded the edges, applied powdered Carborundum, which is gritty, and added a binder. She varnished the wood and spread ink on it, then put it through a press to make prints.

The bomb poster is "nothing so much about political figures or political ideologies," she said. "It's more about getting beyond the paradigm of war to solve our problems."

McCluskey said her bomb was a visceral reaction, expressed empathetically.

"I could imagine looking at a sky and seeing this falling on me," she said.

Shepherd College senior Meghan Baird, a painting major, spills her thoughts onto large printed fabrics - about 6 feet long by 3 feet high.

Baird invented three characters, each about 5 or 6 years old. She drops her nave, blank-faced, cartoonish children into hostile situations. They wear camouflage and tote guns. They dress as cowboys. They march in military uniforms past oil rigs.

The commentary is on children raised to be violent and aggressive - "how society is so geared toward fighting," she said.

She's halfway through her series of eight paintings. Baird said she next will turn the children into anti-war protesters, their hands tied behind their back and their mouths gagged as rubber bullets hit them.

While Baird is creating edgy art about war, other students are not, said Marcia Ruth, who is studying sculpture at Shepherd College and has created some war-themed pieces, too.

Officials at Shepherd, Hood College, Hagerstown Community College and Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., said they knew of no other students creating war-related artwork. Representatives from local community art organizations couldn't come up with any examples.

Ruth, a mother of three and grandmother of two, said she's from the Vietnam War era, when protesting peaked.

After a U.S. airstrike killed 40 people attending a wedding party in Afghanistan last July, Ruth reacted. She created a sculpture based on a photograph of numerous pairs of empty shoes, traditionally left at the door when someone enters a Muslim home.

Ruth, a Martinsburg, W.Va., resident, painted two canvases and used other materials to depict rubble.

"I just can't not comment on this," she said, referring to war in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in general.

One aspect of the war against Iraq that has moved her is the plundering of valuable, irreplaceable artifacts in Baghdad.

"This is the source of Christianity, Judaism and Muslim culture," Ruth said. "This could be a wake-up call."

Mark Eyestone of Frederick, Md., wanted to convey a broad message about money and war.

Angry after reading a report on government defense spending, Eyestone painted, with acrylics, a scene in which flags wave and money and oceans turn to blood.

The idea came to him after attending the National Conference on Organized Resistance in Washington in January.

About a month ago, Eyestone focused his thoughts on the war against Iraq, which was just beginning. This time, he designed a collage.

An American flag was the backdrop. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney threw money. Bodies of dead Gulf War civilians were piled high. Women and children cried and grieved.

Stealth bombers flew through the sky, dropping the word "lies" in various sizes.

"It's just a lot of anger and frustration that had been building," he said. "It just exploded out of me one night."

Eyestone said he was torn over whether to show the collage because of how graphic it is. He wondered if he would want to see it if one of his relatives or friends had died in that war.

At the same time, "the media isn't showing the horrors," he said. "It's a sanitized version."

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