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November 08 , 2010

Battle Lines

Australian Artists at War


For as long as Australians have been serving in wars, the victories and losses, battles and faces have been recorded by artists. What is it like to be an artist in war? How does the experience of war change artists and how, in turn, has their work changed Australians' view of themselves, their country and their involvement in conflict? Award-winning journalist Scott Bevan put these questions to Australian artists who have recorded, been affected by and responded to theatres of war, including Sir William Dargie, Nora Heysen, Ray Parkin, Bruce Fletcher, Rick Amor, Ray Beattie, Wendy Sharpe and Peter Churcher. Their stories are fascinating, painting a vivid picture of the artists' experience of depicting conflict: the hope and tragedy, inspiration and frustration, humanity and beauty that can be found amid the death and destruction of war. Staining the paper with their own sweat, and drawing with whatever materials they had to hand in hostile and dangerous environments, the artists risked their lives to create their art. They were compelled to record what they were seeing, from Alan Moore's bleak sketches of the horror of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to Ray Parkin's drawings of the tropical beauty that lay just beyond the barbed wire of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp he was interned in, to Rick Amor's imposing and thought-provoking oil paintings of the destruction in East Timor in 1999. These artists have shaped how we see war, immortalising soldiers and battles. From World War II to Vietnam and the war against terrorism, the war artist has opened our eyes and perceptions to historic events that might otherwise have been censored, distorted or forgotten. In the process they have created some extraordinary art - beautiful, harrowing, mesmerising and character defining.
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