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Framing Conflict: Iraq and
Afghanistan -- Lyndell Brown
and Charles Green
Where: Australian War Memorial,
When: Until August 18
Phone: 6243 4211
The process of collaborative art can be
a volatile one for most, but Charles
Green insisted; "My wife and I are one
artist, and we've worked that way since '89.
We have no separate artistic voice, the only
art we make is the art we make together.
That's really very rare."
Charles and Lyndell Brown met back in
1986, and had been working separately but
living together for three years when they
noticed their works were becoming more
and more similar.
"We realised in a bolt of inspiration that
we wanted to work together for the rest of
Their synergy and artistic chemistry
was perhaps one of the reasons they were
chosen to take a six-week journey in
March 2007 through the Middle East,
Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf as the
Australian War Memorial's official artists.
Sending a husband and wife both to a
war zone is very rare, Charles explained;
"There's the danger of eliminating a family,
after all there was a special sign-off."
Appointing an official war artist is a
tradition that first began in 1917 during
the First World War. On that topic,
Lyndell wanted to make one thing clear;
"It is not the job of an Australian War
Memorial official artist to preach an anti-
war message; that's sort of obvious. At
the same time the job's not about
If you visit the Australian War
Memorial where Framing Conflict: Iraq
and Afghanistan is currently on display, you
can see what she means. Real, candid and
narrational, the exhibition of paintings and
photos could, as Lyndell puts it, be stills
from a David Lynch film.
"You will see, the images are not about
the heroism or the nobility of war but the
utility and the horrors of war. It's subtle,
and laden with tragedy and pathos. The
focus of our art about war is slow and
comtemplative. It aims to capture the
theatre of war, the banality and entropy of
Charles added; "We didn't see the
cataclysmic moments normally associated
with war. These anti-terrorist wars are
largely not battlefields. Most people are
involved in patrols or reconstruction work.
It goes beyond the obvious wastefulness:
there's a vast, almost insane expenditure of
energy that can't move past a certain point.
It made us feel incredibly sad."
When the artists returned from the
journey, they were still processing what
they had seen.
"We didn't feel it was something we
should edit at all. There was so much
power in the images that we simply relied
on our ability to accurately and truthfully
capture what we saw, and to humbly convey
the narrative elements," Lyndell said.
She cited one painting in particular to
illustrate her point; a two panel portrait
of an incredible man -- Jeff Brock. Brock
was surgeon in the medical 'Dust Off '
team -- a special unit of surgeons embedded
in an American Blackhawk group, whose
job it was to assist in the event of medical
"We did his portrait at the end of a
very long day for him -- he'd been flying
with the President of Afghanistan. He
was exhausted, so when he asked us what
we wanted him to do, we just told him
to relax. After a while, sitting there, Jeff
started telling us of the time he evacuated
an eight-year-old girl who was a victim of
an IED attack and had suffered a cut in the
big vein down her shoulder. Despite all his
efforts and those of the Canadian surgeons
at the IASAF hospital, they eventually
lost her. As Jeff was retelling his story, you
could see a wise face that had witnessed
so much. The intensity comes through
in the portrait, if not the actual story he
was telling. This was how we chose the
pieces we wanted to paint from the body of
photos we had."
Moving fast to cover a lot of ground,
Lyndell and Charles built up a huge
archive of photos from which they would
later select the images for the 30 paintings
that they had been commissioned to
"Once we had stripped the collection of
photos right back, we were so taken with
what was left, we began printing them
bigger and bigger and suddenly realised
that they were major works of art in
themselves," Charles muses.
"When we showed the proofs of the
final 13 pictures to the curator at the
Australian War Memorial, a look came
over his face. It was a look every artist
wants to see on a curator's face -- a look of
total inquisitive desire. He went all quiet
for a moment, and then he said, 'We'll try
to take the lot'. He had to, they were really
Share the city you live in ... Winter 21
Image supplied by Sean Hobbs.
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