Sunday, December 04, 2005

Inviting the Shot.........



Here are two paintings by Winslow Homer that have been on my mind today. For those of you unfamiliar with Homer, you should know that he was a "special correspondent" for Harper's Weekly during our Civil War. A self-taught artist and native of the state of Maine, he brought a no-nonsense Yankee sensibility to his work that echoes yet down the corridors of American art. Parents, wives, children and sweethearts, then as now, had a great desire for some idea of what their loved ones were experiencing far off at war. Homer sought to satisfy that longing with images capturing a reality that few at home could even hope to imagine. Homer, placing himself out in the field, and utilizing his native talent and down-to-earth vision, gave his viewers a vicarious window into both the maelstrom of battle and the tedium of camp life. He elevated the mundane to the poetic, and humbled the faux heroic to simple truths.

One painting is titled "Inviting a Shot Before Petersburg". It shows a Confederate soldier standing defiantly with clenched fists upon the parapet of the rebel trenchline encircling the besieged city of Petersburg, Virginia. In the distance a puff of white smoke reveals the position of a Union sharpshooter. This painting captures and stretches into eternity the pregnant moment between life, and perhaps death. Here in Iraq the ground pounders, both Marine and soldier, patrol daily in the hopes of inviting these shots, of tempting the enemy and death into revealing their position. These are endless moments where death trudges beside you, a battlebuddy who at any moment might come over, tap your shoulder and ask for a light. Some have suggested that the soldier on the parapet has snapped under the strain of combat and has leapt up in a moment suicidal derangement. I believe otherwise. Homer was in the thick of things, and knew that troops will do what simply needs to be done sometimes, no matter how counter-intuitive it might seem. The other painting, "Veteran in a New Field", shows a post-war soldier harvesting a field of wheat. In the foreground lie his blue uniform jacket and canteen, clearly marked with his old unit's insignia. His back is to us as he works his way forward through the chest high field, perhaps triggering in him memories of other fields crossed; where another reeper cut down comrades all around him. Homer's genius anticipated the reality of veterans carrying their experiences back with them; of everyday things and experiences never being the same again. His pictures, in the simple design format of a central figure in the middle ground, trumpet the supremecy of the individual ordinary combatant. Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for Common Man" reverberates in these iconic images.

4 comments:

Beth* A. said...

With knowledge comes appreciation.

Anonymous said...

Did they know a Jarhead could be so eloquent?
I read your posts with hunger, as much for the words, of both raw information and insight, as for the pictures, and come away satisfied each time.
Thank you so much for that "vicarious window." Thanks for presenting it with such grace, and with all the extras.
I'm so grateful that there are men such as yourself, doing what you're doing. Our military personnel deserve to be represented by someone who understands and appreciates. Obviously you do.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I came by your blog by a post you had on my daughter's blog. I find it very bizarre to read your bio because my husband and my daughter's dad is a former marine and likes the same movies as you. What I really wanted to share about Winslow Homer, though is this. Did you ever see the movie "A River Runs Through It"? There is a scene that looks like that Winslow Homer painting. The one with the two boys in a field. Anyway, just an observation.

Keep the faith....press on.

Gary Jacobson said...

As a combat vet who has borne the brunt of our nations actions in Vietnam, bearing freedoms sword, and feeling the embarrassment and scorn heaped upon warriors from that conflict, I salute you for the investigative correspondent articles you send back. Your artwork is an archive of significant interest, and will only grow in importance when the war recedes into our six (rear door), and they are studied to give an accurate glimpse into what was. These give a very accurate observation into what is real in this confusing conflict that is hard to come by anywhere else, for the military gives slanted reporting to put forth their own agendas, as does much of the media ... but as one-of-us there on the scene your unbiased reporting contains a very high degree of credibility.

You are doing what I wanted to do in Vietnam, but was limited to do because of my job as a combat infantryman with the 2/7 First Air Cavalry. I would be honored if you would check out my website, "Vietnam Picture Tour, http://namtour.com/namtour.html from the lens and poet’s pen of a combat infantryman, from one who's walked the walk, and can talk the talk...Take a walk in "the park" with the 1st Air Cavalry on combat patrol, that in reality will give you the sweet and sour taste of "the Nam" on your tongue, leave the pungent smell of "the Nam" acrid in your nostrils, and embed textures of "the Nam" in your brain as though you walked beside me in combat.

Let me introduce myself : My name is Gary Jacobson. I served with B Co 2nd/7th 1st Air Cavalry '66 - '67, as a combat infantryman ... we called ourselves "Grunts," operating out of LZ Betty near beautiful downtown Phan Thiet, Vietnam. Ours was the same unit as depicted in the movie, "We Were Soldiers," only one year later. Vietnam changed us all indelibly and forever. I'm now on 100% disability rating with an extra hole in my head, covered by a 3X4 inch plate, shrapnel the size of a quarter imbedded three inches into my brain...this all compliments of a trip wire booby trap that triggered a grenade, that in turn detonated an artillery round...and in the process completely ruined my whole day...April, 22, '67, in the boonies...Phan Rang, Vietnam. Yeah, I didn't know where it was either... but I left a little blood behind to nourish the site.