Painter Ben Quilty and video artist Shaun Gladwell, both Sydney-born, were official Australian War Memorial artists in Afghanistan. Quilty flew in Chinooks; Gladwell went overland in an Aussie-built Bushmaster protected tank. (www.smh.com.au)
Ben Quitly's travelling exhibition of painted portraits, Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan, which opened in February at the National Art School Gallery on Wednesday drew much acclaim. During October 2011 he also picked up a video camera and recorded soldiers' stories and subsequently kept in touch with a number of the soldiers. He continued to paint them after their return to Australia. Three were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Shaun Gladwell's video art exhibition, Shaun Gladwell: Afghanistan, at Liverpool's Casula Powerhouse was opened at the end of March 29. He handed his camera to several of the young Australian soldiers and the results are most revealing.
WWI War Artists
Essentially, war artists have developed a visual and sensory dimension of war which is often absent in written histories or other accounts of warfare. Official war artists get their roles by appointment by the Governments of the day, and they have provided not only information and or propaganda but more so, to record events on the battlefield. A cursory visit to the Australian War Memorial will illustrate the war artists' remarkable works.
WWI in particular saw the war artists bring home the impact of war on men and women and demonstrate this depicting them waiting, preparing, fighting, suffering, celebrating, worshipping, resting, the dead and the almost dead. Artists were able to capture the eyes of the war exhausted to the point of utter desperation.
The works produced by war artists in WWI illustrated a broad spectrum of war, and the individual's experience of war, whether allied or enemy, service or civilian, military or political, social or cultural. The role of the artist and his work embraces the causes, course and consequences of conflict and when shown at the War Memorial, it certainly provides an educational purpose. (en.wikipedia.org)
Will Dyson an artist expatriate in London during WWI was given permission to accompany the AIF in 1917 and recognised artists who had enlisted were later transferred to the War Artists' team. They played an invaluable role in recording not only what they saw in terms of the conflict, but more so, the Australian soldier in every sphere of experience.
WWII War Artists
The value of the War Artist had been well and truly entrenched by the time WWII broke out and not only did the Australian War Memorial have its own designated official war artists, but each arm of the services likewise had their own war artists – Navy, Army and Air Force.
Their works are very familiar and many prints have been sold – what comes to mind is the New Guinea campaign, the air force raids around the north of New Guinea archipelago such as New Britain and the Naval campaigns especially in the Mediterranean.
A list of Australian war artists WWI, WWII, Korean and subsequent war has been listed but it may not be an exhaustive list. (en.wikipedia.org)
Australia War Memorial Art
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has over 30,000 works of art, it includes paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints, cartoons, illustrations, posters and sculpture. Any visitor cannot but be overwhelmed by the artistic endeavours of depicting the various conflicts the nation has endured.
The art collection began with the inception of the Official War Art Scheme, and it is the longest running commissioning program of art in Australia. The Memorial maintains an active commissioning and acquisition program. These continue to augment the collection.
What particularly interests me in these artistic presentations are the human dimensions depicted by the artists illustrating the horror of war upon the human soul. Nothing quite captures this mayhem as does the artist who is able to reflect the utter desperation of the ordinary soldier, sailor and flyer.
The pathos expressions of tiredness and beyond-exhaustion captured by the war artist reflects to the civilian at home the true nature of war and something of the heartache and despair their loved ones experienced in the midst of war. The military chaplains played their part in all such conflicts as they ministered to those whose feet carried them agonisingly step by step to the rear.
It is this that I spoke of when addressing the ANZAC Dawn Service yesterday at the Midge Point Memorial.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html