War Artists in Afghanistan BEYOND THE WIRE
JULES GEORGE Featuring the work of
JULES GEORGE MICHAEL FAY MATTHEW COOK ARABELLA DORMAN DOUGLAS FARTHING
AN ARTIST IN AFGHANISTAN Jules George
In search of my forefathers My interest in war – and the art we make to record it – was fired by the experiences of my father and grandfather, both of whom saw active service with the British Army. One story my grandfather, Alfred Charles Harvey, used to tell of his time in the trenches during the First World War was particularly evocative. On a warm Summer’s day during a quiet period and, one imagines, as a relief from the constant strains of war, he decided to take a wander out along the lines of the trenches. He was serving with the Essex Yeomanry in the 3rd Cavalry Division and had been posted to Flanders in 1914 to join the British Expeditionary Force shortly after the onset of the Great War. As the story went, his amble continued into low ‘half trenches’ where, without the cover of the towering parapet above, his upper body was now exposed. Shortly, disturbing the still of the day, a lone shot rang out that brushed his temple and shortcropped hair, the round so close to finding its mark that it missed by mere millimetres. His instant reaction was to duck, as a second shot rang out from the sniper.
My grandfather, Alfred Charles Harvey, C Squadron 1st Essex Yeomanry, 1915.
I remember my grandfather’s regular re-enactment of the tale well, his clear blue eyes fixing your gaze whilst his finger faithfully demonstrated the path of the bullet as it brushed the side of his head. This story would always finish with the significant line, ‘And a sniper never misses twice.’ We always marvelled at how Grandpa had escaped so miraculously. But, being young, I didn’t understand the full implications of what he experienced in the war; perhaps I was more concerned that if, indeed, ‘a sniper never misses twice’, by implication I might never have been born. One thing is certain, Grandpa’s tales of the cavalry fired my imagination as a child and I became quite obsessed with the military. Shortly before he passed away at the grand old age of 97, as I stood next to him in his armchair and we discussed my fledgling art career, he looked at my height (I’m 6ft 3in) and said, ‘You should join the Guards my boy… join the Guards.’ 13
Although one was constantly reminded of the conflict by distant blasts and gunfire, there would be quiet periods, and with the onset of spring it was sunny and warm; with so much of interest to watch and draw, together with the general merry banter and the singing of birds in the background, you could easily forget you were in a war zone. It’s sobering to think, however, that some of the locals I had been drawing opposite would probably have made sure, had I walked out of the gates across an invisible line and up the road, I would not have lasted for long. It would be an understatement to say I received a few raised eyebrows from troops when they discovered I was an artist, but I really enjoyed the general (often merciless) banter with the British soldiers. I became quite used to being watched while I worked, ready for the inescapable glib comments: ‘Mate, not bad for an amateur!’; ‘He looks like he’s been hit by an IED!’; and ‘My three-year-old daughter could do better than that!’ It didn’t take me long to work out that this was some sort of challenge or test. It wasn’t really about the drawing and whether it was any good or not; it was a way of checking me out, to see what my response would be and whether I was going to be too precious or not. Although some troops couldn’t really understand the point of what I was doing, generally I found that going along with the humour and being able to laugh at myself, whilst also working hard at my drawings, afforded me some respect. Many troops wanted to know if they or their mates had made it into the pages of my sketchbooks. A vague little figure in the background would often suffice or be enough. ‘That’s awesome mate!’, ‘it’s a beast’ or ‘that’s gleaming’ could often be the response. The ANA troops weren’t enamoured with ISAF troops wandering into their separate Kandak (battalion) compound. Again though, the strange novelty of drawing allowed me almost free rein to wander where I liked making studies.
Out on patrol I moved on to Patrol Base (PB) Chilli, a small base built around a typical Afghan compound or courtyard that had been fortified with a couple of sangars. Fields, compounds and irrigation ditches surrounded the base in every direction. The ANA were based in the adjacent compound and also guarded the checkpoint positioned on a sharp corner next to the dusty road.
Stag Duties Jules George, 2010 Ink on paper
A foot patrol with the ANA and ANP was proposed for the afternoon. It was hot and the small 2 Yorks unit relaxed for a couple of hours ahead of the patrol brief, many taking the opportunity to get ‘their heads down’ and get some extra sleep.
Feeling a little nervous about heading out on the ground with the foot patrol, I climbed the nearest sangar and made a study from its elevated position. I suppose drawing helped calm my nerves, giving me something positive to do. I was struck by the innate beauty of the surrounding landscape, reminiscent of a biblical scene. In the distance, under the inevitable haze of dust, small figures, many dressed in bright garments, went about their chores outside compounds. In the foreground, amongst the trees, shepherds tended their flocks or peacefully worked the fields. Green and fertile with its reed beds and flatness, the terrain in Central Helmand was not dissimilar to parts of the countryside I knew at home, in Suffolk. However, here the perfect serenity was at odds with the darkness of the sangar and the sinister shape of the GPMG (general purpose machine gun) positioned in front of me, with its menacing connotations. Only three months earlier, in November 2009, five British soldiers had been killed at a checkpoint just up the road (the 2 Yorks troops I was with had been crashed out and amongst the first to assist); and the brief for our afternoon patrol duly included every imaginable detail on routes and tasks for that afternoon, all delivered by a Scots Guards Captain complete with swagger stick.
Check Point â€“ PB Chilli Jules George, 2011 Ink on paper PB Chilli resided in a typical Afghan compound, surrounded by a timeless landscape.
Opposite page (detail): Inside Mastiff 33A (‘Withdrawing, we don’t retreat’) See full image on pages 90/91
visited Afghanistan in February 2010. Sponsored
and officially sanctioned by the Ministry of Defence, he was attached to the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), part of the 11th Light Brigade, who were principally spread across various bases in Helmand during their deployment on Herrick 11. Entering a ‘Theatre of War’ for the first time was a vivid and powerful experience for Jules. With a series of impromptu drawings, he endeavoured to capture the contrasting aspects to the conflict: the innate beauty of the Afghan landscape, the infectious banter and camaraderie of troops or the unequivocal ferocity of military engagement and its aftermath. Jules studied at Winchester School of Art, Staffordshire University and Edinburgh College of Art and has since worked on a number of diverse commissions and projects. Subjects have ranged from the African diaspora to King’s Cross station, the Suffolk landscape and a study of a Thai-Burmese border crossing. His work has been exhibited widely and is held in numerous private and public collections, including Bonhams, Edinburgh City Council, Leicestershire County Council, The National Army Museum, The National Museum of the Royal Navy, The Royal Navy Submarine Museum and York Art Gallery. Since March 2011, on several occasions Jules has gone to sea with the Royal Navy, on operational deployments to the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Falkland Islands and Atlantic, on board the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll and Trafalgar class submarine HMS Tireless. 50
Above: The Crossing Oil on paper, 2012 I used genuine Afghan lapis lazuli oil paint to achieve the blue washes in many of the paintings. The use of local pigments on paintings of Afghanistan felt symbolic and appropriate. Opposite page, top: Speed Oil on paper, 2012 Opposite page, bottom: The Call Oil on paper, 2010 The flowing water of the wadi adjacent to the town of Musa Qalah was a focal point of daily life and activity for the local population, whether praying, washing or using the water simply as a route across town or to outlying compounds.
In 2002, in the early, uncertain days of the American ground invasion of Afghanistan, 1st Lieutenant S.M. Ford commanded a platoon on what would be called ‘Gilligan’s Patrol’, a supposed 12-hour patrol that turned into a nine-day ordeal in which his company, low on supplies and sleep, desperately fought off the Taliban:
Above left: 1st Lieutenant S.M. Ford Graphite on paper, 2002 The strain of those nine days is embedded in Ford’s face. Above right: Lance Corporal B.S. Price Graphite on paper, 2002 Lance Corporal Price, shown moments after he and his company of Marines staggered into the Kandahar International Airport terminal building, had ‘the look.’ Nine days of constant combat in the thin and frigid air of Afghanistan’s mountains had left him hollow and exhausted. For nine days he hadn’t bathed, barely slept and never removed his helmet. Opposite page: Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone Graphite on paper, 2002 He may have dropped his backpack and rifle, but the weight of a walk on the rocky and frozen border of Purgatory and Hell still hangs heavy on Lance Corporal Ciccone’s shoulders. On 14th October, 2003, after leaving the Marine Corps, Ciccone would commit suicide back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Left: Marine, Kandahar Watercolour on paper, 2007 Marine dressed for the harsh Afghan climate.
Opposite page: Corporal Nicholas C. Kirven’s Memorial Watercolour and yupo, 2008 In a boulder-strewn wadi in the foothills of the Tora Bora Mountains of Alishang District, Lance Corporal Kirven’s patrol was ambushed by Taliban insurgents. Kirven was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for his actions on 8 May 2005. The narrative from his award citation recorded, ‘… while conducting a search of an enemy body, Lance Corporal Kirven and a fellow Marine noticed movement in a fortified cave just ten meters from their position. With little regard for his personal safety, Lance Corporal Kirven valiantly assaulted the position to clear it of enemy personnel. In the process, Lance Corporal Kirven received multiple wounds from enemy automatic small arms fire and fragmentation grenades. Lance Corporal Kirven continued to fire at the enemy until overcome by his wounds. By his zealous initiative, courageous actions, and exceptional dedication to duty, Lance Corporal Kirven reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service’. Kirven was profoundly beloved and mourned by his entire battalion.
Opposite page, top: Nad e-Ali, February 2009 Watercolour and inks on paper Urinals, drainpipe tubes known as ‘Desert roses’, next to the perimeter wall at Forward Operating Base Argyle; I found many of the everyday aspects of soldiering fascinating. A mother later phoned me to tell me her son’s name was scribbled on the wall to the right, before he was killed by an explosion.
Operating Base Argyle, February 2009 Watercolour and inks on paper Having been brought up on a bevy of Vietnam war films, winter in Helmand provided many similar images of troops surviving the climate as well as a determined enemy. A cooking fire sheltered from the rain cast amazing shadows and colours in stark contrast to the gloomy, muddy surroundings.
Opposite page, bottom: Camp Bastion, March 2012 Watercolour and inks on paper ISAF troops at the Pizza Hut in Bastion 1. Bangladeshi and Indian cooks were paid well to supply a memory of home. They looked like very ordinary shipping containers in daylight, but the nighttime spotlights made the scene appear far more interesting.
Above: Operation Daas Naizah 106, Yakhchal, June 2013 Watercolour and inks on paper Part of the defensive box formation of the Warthog tactical command element with a sharpshooter providing overwatch. Once the area had been checked for IEDs, it provided a safe zone for commanders to control the ground assault.
Opposite page, top: Camp Bastion, January 2009 Watercolour and inks on paper Medical staff giving a lumbar injection prior to surgery for a gunshot wound, at the Role 3 Hospital. It took a lot of persuasion to gain access to the hospital, but once in, the surgeons were delighted to show me in detail what they were doing. I preferred to step back and watch the team of figures working on their patient. The Afghan initially said that the Taliban had shot him, but later changed his story, stating that an ISAF patrol had opened fire. Opposite page, bottom: Helmand, 2009 Watercolour and inks on paper ‘Piss stop’ off Highway 1. A regular occurrence when troops drink at least four litres of ‘Bastion’ bottled water each day.
Above: I Am Strong Oil on canvas, 2012 ‘Please trust me, No matter what the circumstances of My death No matter how fast, how slow, I am strong And without fear and without pain. My only suffering Will be the realisation that I will not see my family And friends again. I will not suffer for Fear or pain. Such feelings will not touch me.’ Words from Cpl Sean Reeve’s pre-deployment letter to his parents. Sean was killed in action, on the last day of his tour in Afghanistan.
Opposite page: Faces of the Fallen Mixed media, 2012 A tribute to the fallen, a commemoration of the cost of conflict. Painted for Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance, November 2012, this painting is in memory of every British soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Above: Kabul ladies Oil on board, undated Two of the ladies shopping in Kabul move elegantly by, caught in a moment of surprise. This reaction of surprise was common on our arrival in Afghanistan; we must have seemed so different with our uniforms and white faces, our eyes squinting against the intense glare of the sun. Right: Gulam Oil on canvas, 2002-03 In 2001, I was deployed in Kabul, on the western side of the city. The destruction of the civil war was evident all around us. A man approached our patrol and spoke to us in perfect English. He decided he would be our interpreter and duly lived and worked with us for six months. We became good friends. Gulam explained that before the civil war and when the Russians were in Kabul, he was a teacher and could speak Russian and all the dialects of Afghanistan. I painted his portrait on my return. I love this painting, and I loved the long days out on patrol with Gulam.
Ladies in blue Oil on canvas, 2002-03 Ladies wait to enter a new medical clinic. My platoon was tasked with providing security, in order to deter an insurgent attack.
The Fourth Man Oil on canvas, 2005 Soldiers from 2 Para patrolling the narrow, ancient lanes that wind their way up and down the hills of Kabul. Painted from the perspective of the fourth man in a â€˜brickâ€™, a four-man patrol, the work tries to capture the uncertainty and disorientation of being on patrol in this environment. With thanks to the National Army Museum
‘I felt physically sick. The world had seemingly gone mad. Having visions of the base now being ransacked, I felt vulnerable, confused and unsure of what to do. My solution was to do the only thing I could do: I climbed the nearest sangar and started to draw.’ Jules George
‘The five artists in this book reach for the very essence of what it means to be in a warzone, as combatant or civilian.’ General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB CBE DSO DL