Painting the war

001_dsc0127.jpgMaybe it’s because the topic of war has never fascinated me. Perturbed, outraged, troubled, distressed, pained, yes — but fascinated? Nah. I grew up in Germany after the war, and it loomed over my early childhood like a huge shapeless shadow, undefinable and evil. It had caused tremendous anguish and misery, that much I understood.

How somebody can seek out a war in order to sketch and paint and draw what’s going on, is therefore completely incomprehensible to me. But that’s what New York-based artist Steve Mumford did — went to Iraq a number of times because the topic of war fascinates him. He is seeing his subject matter through the eyes of a US army guy or marine, envisioning some crossover contact between the military and the art world. “The Army and the Marines should be actively recruiting artists through grant programs whether they’re in combat or not”, he proclaims.

Sorry, but I prefer photojournalism. With the caveat that my judgment is based on a very small selection of his work, I have to say that Mumford’s art leaves me totally cold. I can’t sense compassion or empathy. His pictures don’t reveal anything meaningful about war and the suffering it causes. By comparison, a camera is unpretentious and honest.

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