SU Art and Design professor paints conflict in Iraq
SU Art and Design professor paints conflict in IraqSeptember 23, 2003Amy Schmitzaemehrin@syr.edu
John Thompson, professor of illustration and painting in The College of Visual and Performing Arts, recently returned from a stint as an Air Force illustrator in Iraq. Thompson traveled to Kirkuk, Irbil and Tallil in Iraq and in major cities in Qatar to document the activities and reality of Americans in combat in the Middle East.
Thompson’s documentations took the form of sketches, which are now being turned into paintings. Some of the paintings will be given to the Air Force Art Collection for display on various bases around the world, including the Pentagon.
“My heroes when I was younger were always artists in combat,” says Thompson. “People like Frank McMahon and Bill Mauldin. I am a member of the Society of Illustrators and through them, collaborated with the Air Force Art program. They sent me first to Islamabad, Pakistan during the 1980’s, when Afghanistan was fighting the Soviet Union. I made paintings of Afghan Freedom Fighters. I’ve illustrated the military in Argentina, Germany, Italy, Paraguay.”
Though Thompson was well protected by the military in Iraq and even lived in air-conditioned tents, there was no ignoring the conflict around him. “I looked around me while I was in the Kurdish area, at the mountains and beautiful landscape, and then there were soldiers from Fort Drum there, and downed planes and ruined tanks,” says Thompson. “It was too bad I was there under those circumstances, but if it wasn’t for the war, I probably never would have visited this place.”
Thompson’s illustrations include a painting of the Fort Drum soldiers in front of a C-130 they were about to board. Another depicts the C-130 Thompson arrived on half-concealed by a partition created by someone’s laundry. That painting is a particular favorite of Thompson’s because it shows that “someone lives there. Something as routine as laundry made me realize we were really in a war.”