‘‘I wanted to make it an endless plight ... of the Marines trying to take the hill over and over and over,’’ Olsen says. ‘‘There’s just an absurd twist to it.’’
Olsen moved beyond Vietnam to an artistic career that has spanned more than 50 years; he’s produced more than 1,000 paintings, many of them abstract. His work has been shown in galleries around the country.
Yet those days when he flew his chopper over the dense thicket of jungle maintain a deep hold on him.
‘‘War is the depth of the human experience,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s the most meaningful part of anyone’s life.’’
A stately building in Kabul is consumed by a bomb. Gray clouds of smoke and red bursts of fire billow from the windows. Splashes of red, blue and yellow tents on clotheslines frame the bottom of a degraded print.
Title: Transfer’s of War (triptych 1, part 2).
Ash Kyrie wasn’t an artist before he went to Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. But after his return in 2004, the former debate champ no longer wanted to follow family tradition and become a lawyer. ‘‘I was a different person,’’ he says. ‘‘I wasn’t interested in the same things. I threw away my TV. I wanted to express feelings and emotions.’’
He enrolled in art classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, read the newspapers religiously and became mesmerized by photos of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They seemed remote from his experiences, not reflecting the brutality he'd seen.
Over two years, Kyrie, now 31, collected about 1,500 photos from major newspapers and categorized them in three groups: benign intervention, showing U.S., troops following local customs or mingling with villagers; abstract explosions, images that are too far away to show the grisly consequences; and something he called sacrifice — Iraqis and Afghans, killed by each other, not coalition forces.
Kyrie took some of the photos, blew them up into enormous prints and, using a transfer process, altered the images. From a distance, the harsh scene scenes are recognizable, but up close they look like a collection of beautiful crystals.
There is no political message here, Kyrie says, just a way of illustrating the gap between war as it is and the way it is portrayed in the media.
Art, says Kyrie, has helped him come closer to understanding his tour in Iraq.
‘‘I think about the war every day,’’ he says. ‘‘I think about my experience. Every soldier tries to quantify or organize it in some way. I got back in 2004 and I still haven’t come to a conclusion. I don’t know if I ever will. Every emotion you went through goes through your head. You relive it. You remember it. It’s a very intense time being at war. Every moment is memorable.’’
Sharon Cohen is a Chicago-based national writer. She can be reached at scohen(at)ap.org.
National Veterans Art Museum: www.nvam.org
Marcus Eriken’s work: www.marcuseriksen.com
Richard J. Olsen’s work: www.richardjolsen.com
Ash Kyrie’s work: www.ashkyrie.com