Artists draw up an honor for survivors

Exhibit commemorates troops who came home forever altered

05/29/2012 12:00 AM

05/29/2012 11:08 AM

Marine Cpl. Matt Bowman. Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter. Sgt. Adam Jacks.

Those are names artist Rob Bates wants us never to forget. Thousands upon thousands of others also should be remembered: men and women of Bates’ generation who went to war and came home forever altered.

Bates, a Marine Corps veteran who served twice in Afghanistan, sought out Marines in hospital beds and elsewhere to hear their stories and to sketch and paint them as they began to find a way back into military or civilian life.

As the nation mourns on Memorial Day, May 28, in remembrance of the members of the military it has lost, Bates also wants to remember the wounded.

He has organized an exhibit at UNC Charlotte that documents the traumatic injuries American troops live with because of war.

“The Joe Bonham Project” includes portraits by Bates and three other artists. The exhibit takes its name from the central character in “Johnny Got His Gun,” Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 novel of a World War I soldier unable to communicate with the outside world because of the extent of his wounds.

“I see these guys, and they’re positive, and they’re unashamed of their wounds,” said Bates. “They want to be seen and heard.

“That’s where we come in.”

Bates, who lives in Concord, is 29 and a sophomore art major.

He said the exhibit does not take a stand for or against war. He just hopes the images will cause visitors to think more often about the men and women who are on the battlefield every day, and to remember the price some pay for being there.

The former infantryman suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but made it out of Afghanistan after eight years without a physical injury.

Bates often sketched images of his squad’s encounters during his tours of service. He also dreamed of a combat artist for the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Michael Fay, who organized “The Joe Bonham Project” in 2011, had just retired as a combat artist when Bates contacted him for advice.

Fay encouraged Bates, suggested how he could improve his art and ultimately helped push open the museum’s doors to Bates, whose work was voted into the collection in 2011.

The Charlotte exhibit will be Bates and Fay’s third through the Bonham Project. Fay has seven pieces on display, Bates 13.

New York illustrator Victor Juhasz will have 15 pieces in the show; he became involved in wartime illustration through a tour of bases in Kuwait and Iraq in 2008 that sent original drawings to family members. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone and GQ magazines.

Jeff Fisher has worked for more than 25 years as a professional artist and illustrator. He has five pieces in the show.

For Bates, the exhibit is part of the sometimes slippery transition from military to civilian life. He has hopes that the men and women who have become his subjects – and, some of them, friends – can find something as inspiring to help them through theirs.

“I’m completely tied to the subject matter,” Bates said. “I’ve lived this culture and seen it happen firsthand. It’s my demographic.

“I believe this is something that the American public needs to see.”

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