A NATIONAL EXHIBIT OF COMBAT-INSPIRED ART OPENED this week at the National Constitution Center in Phildelphia. Art of the American Soldier features over 200 paintings created by Army soldiers in the field, from World War I to the current conflicts in the Middle East.
This exhibit unveils the work of thousands of soldiers. The Army’s art program lacks a museum like the other branches of the miltary, so 15,000 paintings and sketches were kept in storage, and have never been on public view.
The exhibition’s website gives you a taste of the variety of materials and subject matters the soldiers captured while on-duty, and all without any sense of propaganda. It combines the truthful eye of photojournalism with personal interpretation. For example, “Movies,” by Paul Sample, shows a troop watching a movie on a crude outdoor projection scene on Canton Island in 1943. The movie features a romantic clinch, and could be happening at any drive-in, except for the moonlit night and the figures in uniform and helmets.
Each painting, no matter its subject or time, focuses on the human figure, and not just that of the soldiers.There are portraits of the people the soldiers interacted with and confronted, including local men, women and children. The images from the Vietnam War are especially emotional and powerful.
You can view these and other paintings through a timeline of the works from 1910 to 2010, available at the National Constitution Center’s special online gallery.
And if this peaks your interest in more art by soldiers, check out the Combat Paper Project, a workshop based in Vermont creating art made directly from soldiers’ uniforms. Veterans learn hand papermaking, pulping the uniforms they wore in service and then using the material for sketching and painting.
The works created in this project take the combat experience one step further into catharsis, as a way for soldiers to understand and interpret their experiences. Here’s an example of a work by Drew Cameron, veteran and co-director of the Project: