- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2006

A long-standing interest in combat art, particularly Winslow Homer’s Civil War paintings, led New Yorker Steve Mumford to spend 11 months in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 sketching his surroundings.

“War is pretty seductive for an artist like me who is trying to make big narrative statements in my work,” he says by telephone from his Manhattan studio. “The danger was worth it.”

Armed with a press pass from the online art magazine Artnet.com, Mr. Mumford made his first of four trips shortly after the American invasion. He established a base in Baghdad and traveled with the troops to Tikrit, Samarra, Ramadi and Baqubah, where his vehicle was hit by gunfire from insurgents.

“I fell in love with Army culture,” said the 45-year-old artist, who has never served in the military. “I was impressed by the enlisted soldiers I met.”

Everywhere he went, the artist quickly drew what he saw, often attracting crowds of men and boys who would pose for him. His intense watercolors and ink sketches depict skirmishes and street scenes with energy and immediacy. Last year, they were compiled into a book, “Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq,” published by Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly. Now he is turning some of them into large oil paintings.

Mr. Mumford said he has no plans to return to Iraq. But he isn’t finished with the war. Last week, the artist spent three days at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, drawing candid portraits of amputees and other disabled Iraqi War veterans for Harper’s Magazine.

“It was inspiring,” he said.

Deborah K. Dietsch

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