June 2019

Remnants of War

Remnants of War
2017, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 48 in.

Remnants of War

The depiction of war violence has a long tradition in the arts. Innumerable examples can be seen in painting, sculpture, printmaking, literature, and film. Picasso's Guernica, Goya's Disasters of War series, and Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain are just a few. I have been enriched and inspired by many of those works, particularly those whose core message is anti-war pacifism. Remnants of War follows that tradition by focusing on the alienating horror, barbarism, human carnage and madness of war.

In general Remnants of War is not about a single known war but is a universalized representation of all war. As such it contains leftover elements common to war. The painting is dominated by a single human figure that has been violently ripped apart and then bound with barbed wire to an elaborate structure made of dead tree branches and rusted corten steel panels. Reminiscent of prison camp fences the red-tinged barbed wire symbolizes the blood victims shed during their struggles. The corten steel panels represent the remains of armored steel-clad vehicles used to wreak destruction. The hacked and leafless tree branches reference how war scourges and denudes landscapes. Woven in and around the figure and the structure are two coiling strands of grayish-pink intestines. Together their concentric ovals form a kind of target image, or maybe even a large all-seeing eye. Serving as a backdrop beyond this horrific scene is a transcendent space filled with a greenish-gold field of speckled light that emanates from a swirling vortex at the center of the composition. Does this light-filled space radiate hope, or does it represent the emptiness and dissolution of the souls of the dead?

At its core Remnants of War is an anti-war painting. This can be seen in various elements of the composition. For example, the overall structure of branches and steel form a giant X-shape that alludes to the necessity to eradicate war. The red ropes that bind the branches together symbolize grave crosses while the hands of the figure are held up as if this tortured soul is surrendering or gesturing to say stop this madness. The decapitation and genital disfigurement of the figure both strip away the figure's identity and heighten the horror of the scene.

I fully acknowledge that Remnants of War, as well as other paintings I have created, is difficult to look at and appreciate. Some of them may even repel viewers who turn away in disgust, preferring instead to view gentle works that are not as challenging. It is wonderful that viewer preferences are vast and many because it gives rise to the abundant number of artistic styles and expressions we see in the world today. But in this painting I have chosen to unflinchingly represent the unthinkable horror that war manifests in the hope it, in union with other works of its kind, will help to dissuade the mad pursuit of future conflicts.

- Brian Mains, 2019