All vets of the contemporary wars have seen unit esprit-de-corps murals painted by service members on the large concrete “T-wall” blast barriers that protect barracks, offices, and sensitive equipment on Iraq and Afghanistan FOBs. Just about the only splash of color in the waterless surroundings, the murals could be huge—up to 12 feet high and maybe 30 feet wide. Their messages were never subversive, though as public artworks they straddled the line between unofficial and official. Representing talent and inspiration bubbling up from artists-in-the-ranks, they were permitted by the chain-of-command only if they glorified unit prowess and pride or honored fallen comrades. Within that stricture and a fairly limited iconographic range—think flags, screaming eagles, and thunderbolts—the murals demonstrated a remarkable competence, color palette, and imaginative variety.
US Army veteran Jaeson “Doc” Parsons’ idea of a good idea was to take pictures of the murals he saw overseas and mount them on oversize foamboard panels for exhibition to curious American viewers. Called Graffiti of War, Doc’s project aims to showcase the artistry inherent in soldiering while publicizing concerns about “the invisible wounds of war” and helping connect civilian audiences with the military experience. GoW features soldier and veteran personal art in addition to the unit murals I write of here, but, for me, it’s the murals that are most eye-catching. I recently had a chance to view a GoW exhibit and thoroughly enjoyed it. I asked Doc if I could write about him and GoW and thankfully he agreed, so here I salute his honoring of the artistic impulse as it flickered in the maelstrom of war.
Graffiti of War features artwork from Coalition partners, too, such as this French Foreign Legion mural:
The two stretched canvasses below show unit murals as they appeared on the ground in Iraq. Note the rebar hoops protruding from the top of the concrete barriers–they allow cranes to lift and emplace the giant T-walls. The things are enormous; the figures in the actual two murals below are darn-near life size.
Doc kept an eye out for striking murals painted by Iraqis, too. The first one below shows murals painted on the outside of a US airbase blast wall. The second is a close-up of one of the murals.
The picture below features Doc flanked by his two assistants, Jeremy Mull (ex-USMC) and Rob Craven (US Army, ex-active duty, now in the National Guard). Thank you, gentlemen, for what you are doing and good luck in all future endeavors!
The Graffiti of War exhibition I saw appeared at West Point, where I serve, courtesy of its Creative Arts Project, which is dedicated to showcasing art inspired by the contemporary wars created by service members, veterans, and civilian artists. A West Point Pointer View online article about Graffiti of War and this year’s “CAP” is here.