DOYLESTOWN , PA.- This summer and early fall, the James A. Michener Art Museum offers artistic interpretations of the American military and its Middle East experiences through two individual, yet complementary exhibitions. Fire and Ice: Marine Corps Combat Art from Afghanistan and Iraq presents Marine Warrant Officer Michael Fay's drawings and watercolors, while Soldier highlights photographer Suzanne Opton's portraits of military men and women shortly after their return from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both exhibitions are on view at the Museum's Doylestown location July 8 through October 21, 2007. Fire and Ice is sponsored by Segovia, Inc.
"These two powerful exhibitions present very different points of view about the experiences of our military," said Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator at the Michener Art Museum. "One artist sees war from the insideliterally from the trencheswhile the other artist contemplates the effects of war as etched in the faces of the returning warriors. Together, these insightful and heartfelt images remind us both of the reality of our wars and the humanity of those who are called upon to fight our wars."
Marine Warrant Officer Michael Fay, a Reservist from Fredericksburg, Virginia, is one of only two active-duty combat artists currently serving in the United States Marine Corps. In an age of digital photography and embedded journalists, Fay continues a tradition of combat art that dates back to ancient times. Fay puts a human face to war as he cultivates art for its own sake, an activity which, in his words, serves as "one of the many ways the Marine Corps nurtures its devotion to the core values of our American republic."
Fay's drawings and watercolors, on view in the Fred Beans Gallery, depict Marines conducting their routine business in difficult and unfamiliar settings. The exhibition of more than 50 works created during two tours each in Afghanistan and Iraq is named Fire and Ice in response to the extremes faced during military service in the Middle East.
"My art articulates what is true and real about the actual experience of war and warriors," wrote Fay in a catalog of his work. "My intent, especially in view of current events, is to give people another experience of events, another insight as we all struggle to understand this unfolding drama called the War on Terrorism. It is also my hope that this experience, though grounded in realism, is more poetry than prose, and more art than journalism."
A native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Fay studied briefly at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and earned an undergraduate degree in Art Education from Penn State University. When not deployed overseas, the 53-year-old artist works at the Marine Corps Historical Division in Quantico, Virginia.
Upstate New York-based photographer Suzanne Opton is interested in the individual behind the uniform. Soldier, on view in the Betz Gallery, is an exhibition of photographic portraits of military men and women at Fort Drum in New York shortly after their completion of at least 100 days overseas in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Using a 4 x 5 view camera, Opton devised several strategies for these portraits, including traditional views of face and upper torso as well as more unusual poses in which each soldier is asked to lay his or her head down on a table. Opton's images sometimes include spouses or other soldiers, and often focus on close-ups with heads and hands nearly filling the whole frame. These postures provide a vulnerable look at the faces of individuals who have literally been on the front lines. As Opton expressed, "In making these portraits of soldiers, I simply wanted to look in the face of someone who'd seen something unforgettable."
Opton's work has been exhibited internationally, and is featured in permanent collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris; the Musée de'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Her photography has appeared in a variety of publications including Orion, The New York Times , Time, Newsweek and Fortune. Opton teaches at the International Center of Photography and the Cooper Union.
Contact Sheet 136, a 48-page paperback catalog of Opton's photographs, is available for $10.00 in the Museum Shop. Published by Light Work, the catalog includes an essay by renowned photography critic Vicki Goldberg.
In conjunction with these two exhibitions, the Museum presents one-hour lectures by each of the artists: Michael Fay, Tuesday, July 10 at 1:00 p.m. and Suzanne Opton, Tuesday, September 4 at 1:00 p.m. The fee for each lecture is $8.00 for members and $12.00 for non-members. The price includes general admission to the Museum. Advanced registration is required. For more information or to register for programs, please visit www.michenerartmuseum.org or call (215) 340-9800.
Annual support for the Michener Art Museum is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Bucks County Commissioners and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.