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Vets preserve memories of war with their own art
Question of the Day
“It’s about sharing the experience,” he says. “It’s not just something that haunts you.”
Using a toy soldier and a pill bottle he’d kept on his key chain, Muncy produced one print showing the trapped soldier. A second one shows the bottle tipped over, the soldier crawling out on his belly. That one is appropriately called Escape.
“They’re both me,” Muncy says. “It’s not then and now. It’s a back and forth. Sometimes I still feel like the guy trapped in the bottle.”
A desperate Vietnamese mother clutches her starving baby on her chest as she flees her village. Looking back, she sees the chaos of her hamlet under attack. A Viet Cong soldier has his rifle pointed at the head of a villager on his knees, praying before he’s executed.
Title: The Refugee.
Richard Olsen created the yellow-and-black linocut after returning home following a year’s tour as an Army helicopter pilot with the 33rd Transportation Company in Vietnam. He came back in 1963, and the war in faraway Southeast Asia was not yet fully on America’s radar, so producing these images was his way of sounding an alarm.
“It was like, `Hey, you guys, there’s a war going on,’” Olsen says. “Why make pictures of flowers? Why not make pictures of war?”
Olsen had always wanted to be an artist growing up in Wisconsin _ he earned a master of fine arts degree _ and Vietnam allowed him to create works that he says reveal a “little man swept into a world beyond his control.”
“I had to tell the story … the valiance, the heroism, the sacrifices, the personal giving for causes bigger than yourself,” says Olsen, now a 76-year-old professional artist living in Georgia. “It occurs on both sides.”
Olsen’s work _ paintings, drawing and prints _ is ripe with pain, sacrifice and patriotism.
There’s a POW, viewed from behind, on his knees, his hands bound behind his back with his shoe laces, waiting to be killed; an eerie bluish outpost at 4 a.m., illuminated by a searchlight; a tender portrait of his bunk mate, a lieutenant who didn’t make it home. And then there’s Hill 881, site of one of the bloodiest Marine battles in Vietnam.
The hill painting was created by copying stencil shapes onto a canvas. It repeats the same scene of three soldiers: one climbing a hill, one higher up, tumbling down after being hit, and the third at the top falling backward as he’s shot. That final image was inspired by the famous Robert Capa photo of the fallen soldier in the Spanish Civil War.
“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.
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