by Linda DiGusta
“Many veterans and their family members want to tell their stories, but those conversations can be difficult to start. Often, art can be a starting place to communicate with others.”
— Salmagundi Club President Elizabeth Spencer
Every truly creative artist uses craft to transmit their pure experience of life, and when that experience resonates with its entire audience, the impact is deep and immeasurable. When that experience is war, and the artists are on intimate terms with that experience, we are truly fortunate that they are willing to dig deep into their memories and open for the rest of us a window on that level of understanding. In America, at least, we have lived in a country taking military action for most of our lives. “From There to Here” delivers a vivid reminder to the rest of us that there are real human beings behind the headlines, and that staying woke to their reality is our duty, as it is theirs to engage combat for the rest of us.
Co-curated by fine art and travel photographer Paul Murray, who manages the Journeys Onward: Veterans’ Experiences in Art & Words initiative, and Omar Columbus, a U.S. Air Force veteran and NYC-based photographer and poet, the exhibition of works in many genres and media intends to foster understanding and dialogue within and between the military and civilian communities. It’s also a welcome opportunity to see art, and the roles of creators, critics and curators, in a different light — with honesty and purpose — values that can often get lost in the high-hype, money-driven culture of art in NYC.
To exhibit with Journeys Onward, and artist must be a current or past member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Reserve Corps of the U.S. Armed Forces, or the National Guard. Alternately, members of their immediate family may also present work, adding what I know, as the daughter of a combat veteran myself, to be a unique perspective. Murray is himself the son of 2 veterans. Artists also provide eloquent statements about their work and its relevance to the concept of the group that are shown alongside the art, adding a moving and sometimes shattering element of story to the show.
From artist John Quigley’s statement about his photograph, Saint Michael, “Special Operations soldiers wear nothing that identifies them personally. This soldier has chosen the Saint Michael patch, the patron saint of warriors. The flag and blood type patches are ones which can be seen even with night vision. The soldier is also wearing his rosary from his army chaplain, a symbol of luck and faith.” About Night Rescue, Cynthia DiDonato writes, “My husband, Ralph A. DiDonato, is a Vietnam Veteran who served in 1968-69 during the Tet Offensive. He was a 4th Infantry Division, Medical Battalion, Specialist 4th Class radio operator for Operation Dust Off in Pleiku…He has often recounted his emotionally charged experiences coordinating medivacs by helicopter to rescue the combat wounded. To this day approaching helicopters evoke conflicting emotions because they both took lives and saved lives.”
The program has been presenting exhibitions since 2016, and Murray has observed how the shows facilitate connections between the artists and civilian visitors to the exhibition, which is key to his mission. “Every member of the U.S. Armed Forces and their family members embark on a journey of experiences that are both shared by many, and specific to everyone,” he says. Those experiences can be complex and enduring – perhaps lifelong. Their impact and intensity may be hard to grasp for those outside the Armed Forces community.” As stated in the mission of Journeys Onward, art opens the door for people to get beyond, “Thank you for your service,” as the entirety of a conversation.
Several works in the exhibition, including those pictured by Jim Fallon and Ron Erickson, utilize a substrate described as Combat Paper, which has a special connection to this body of work. Typically gray and rather heavy with an uneven surface and texture, the paper is created from old uniforms, via a meticulous process involving removing everything but the fiber from the re-purposed garments. The process was originally conceived by combat veteran Drew Cameron and artist Drew Matott, in 2007, who then began giving workshops on how to make the paper. It caught the attention of Walt Nygard, who initiated the Frontline Paper project, which includes several Journeys Onward artists and is the source of the Combat Paper in the exhibition.
Thoughtful, impactful and masterful, From There to Here sets up high expectations for future exhibitions in this series, and demonstrates the unique power of art to convey history and emotion, as well as build lasting bridges between our hearts.
On view in the Patrons’ Gallery at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue, thru February 21, 2020
To be notified of upcoming exhibitions and more please contact:
Paul Murray, firstname.lastname@example.org