Historically, artists' interrogation of war and weaponry has been incredibly diverse, with each artist addressing the severe subject with a differing approach.
With every individual artist framing the topic with a unique lens, we consider the different ways in which artists broach the subject of violence, from Banksy’s anti-war graffiti and Schoony’s Soldier Boy sculpture, to Nick Veasey’s intriguing x-rays and Graceland’s gory satirical cartoons.
Bran Symondson began his career in the UK Special Forces as a soldier, documenting the frontline as a pastime while on active duty. After serving in the army and inspired by the images he took of the Afghanistan Police Force, Symondson returned as a civilian photographer working for a newspaper; a role that unbeknown to him at the time, started his life-long career as photographer and conceptual artist. In 2012, Symondson hosted AKA Peace, a philanthropic exhibition that saw the likes of Damien Hirst, Anthony Gormley and other well-known artists transform de-commissioned AK47 guns. Based on principles of love, each AK47 has been turned from an object of violence into an item of beauty and craftsmanship, with different weapons being decorated with paint, butterflies and money. The exhibition was an immediate success and not only raised thousands of pounds for charity, but also attracted a number of celebrity collectors, with Elton John and the Prince of Bahrain both purchasing his works.
With a background in special effects for film, Schoony’s hyper-realistic casts explore Western social detachment to war. Working on the sets of many Hollywood movies, including Saving Private Ryan and Clash of the Titans, Schoony’s senses were heightened to the detrimental effects of the sounds and images of violence on set, let alone the active violence and ultimate sacrifice of war itself. In 2011, Schoony created his iconic work Boy Soldier which features a young boy dwarfed by a soldier’s helmet grasping a grenade in his hand. There is a sobering juxtaposition between the child’s delicate frame and the over-sized helmet, prompting important questions surrounding culpability in conflict. The sculpture was first created in collaboration with Art Below as part of the 2011 Peace campaign against the violence taking place in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Since, Schoony’s Boy Soldier has come to feature in numerous exhibitions and Hollywood blockbusters, including Kick Ass 2, as well as being commissioned by art connoisseurs across the globe.
Working as a multi-media visual artist, Georgopoulos, much like Schoony, is inspired by the motion picture industry. However, unlike Schoony whose experience on set inspired him to explore real life situations, Georgopoulos explores the pretence of films. His works interrogate the technology behind the simulated violence, with his prints depicting authentic replicas of the most iconic and notorious guns used on film sets. Allied Invasion, for example, illustrates the actual Nambu Type A 1902 pistol that Captain Tanida uses in Clint Eastwood’s 2006 feature film, Letters from Iwo Jima. Georgopoulos’ work examines the duality of weaponry, exploring how something so deadly can also be an inspirational and revered object.
Renowned for his x-ray images, Nick Veasey has created a series of light-hearted works that feature humorously named prints of concealed weapons. From Chanel Packing Heat to Dagger In My Dior, Veasey’s work creates a vivid narrative, using only two objects to tell a story. Is this bag owned by a venomous femme fatale or perhaps an unassuming daughter? Either way, Veasey’s work conjures up an immediate story influenced by the glamour and intrigue of cinematic epics.
From Banksy’s Flower Thrower to his Heavy Weaponry series, the anonymous street artist is known for his anti-violence and anti-war sentiment. Always broaching the subject with distinctive style and a sharp wit, Banksy’s stencilled elephant in Heavy Weaponry plays upon the notion of high-grade weaponry being described as ‘heavy.’ The subversive twist, alongside the labelling of ‘Bristol’ as the location of manufacture, makes this artwork as humorous as it is critical of warfare. Luckily for Banksy, his clandestine identity allows him the creative freedom to politicise many of his artworks without having to manage the repercussion. In part, this is what makes the street artist so popular.
Embodying a completely different approach to war imagery, the work of pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein, appropriates pre-existing images from cartoons and magazines. Rendered with Ben-Day dots and text balloons, the imagery from Crak! is taken from Star Spangled War Stories, a DC comic lauding the bravery of American soldiers. During the 1960s and with civilian support of American efforts in the Vietnam War waning, pop artists looked back to World War II to find uplifting imagery of American heroism and their allies. Lichtenstein’s lithographs are fun, bright and indicative of the pop era, with the realism of war taking a back seat.
A small teddy bear stands in the corner of the canvas holding an automatic rifle. Surrealist, entertaining and slightly jarring, this is exactly what you can expect from Graceland’s work. Exploring the human condition through her art, Graceland’s paintings do not shy away from the gore and violence of warfare.
Existing in a dystopian world, Graceland’s characters manoeuvre themselves in a post-apocalyptic society that has been ravaged by war. End Of The World sees a desolate supermarket where guns and arsenic can be bought alongside greed and pride. Graceland’s frank examination of a post-moral society approaches violence and the effect of warfare unabashedly and with a well needed dose of humour.