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Okubo, Benji [ bio ]

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H: 20 in, W: 20 in

Heart Mountain, Wyo., 1942-1945


Gift of Chisato Okubo


Stretched and framed.

The painting depicts a soldier impaled by a bayonet (still in his chest) on a tree stump, lying in blood. Dressed in tattered brown trousers, black combat boots and a canteen at his side, the soldier's body is contorted -- his back arched in pain and his head hangs downward on left; one arm is flung over his head, and one leg is outstretched while the other is bent inward. He has sage green skin and silver hair with black strands and a well-muscled body. He appears to either be dead or dying as his face is an expression of agony and pain with his proper left eye closed, proper right eye rolled up nearly in the socket and his mouth, the same shade of red as the blood that runs from his chest is open and appears to be screaming. The soldier's head and torso lays on a khaki-colored army jacket with three chevron stripes on the sleeve. Nearby, an upside down helmet lies useless and deserted, bottom right corner. The background is as grim as the subject in the sky, dark gray clouds are rolling in and the sky is a ghostly pale green. There appears to be no living creature in the scene except for a few tree stumps.
The painting is rendered in muted tones of red, green and gold -- contributing to its somber tone. The brush strokes are large and expressive and generally follow the contour of items they depict (e.g. the flowing clouds and the curve of the muscles). The artist uses a dramatic triangular composition with the soldier's head and torso forming one diagonal, his legs forming the other, and the rifle forming the triangle's apex. The style of the painting is naturalistic surrealism -- a 20th century art movement in which recognizable scenes are transformed into dreamlike or nightmarish images.

The painting is an antiwar statement. The artist seems to be making a comment about the ultimate futility and waste of war. In the prime of his life, the soldier is destroyed. The tree stumps reinforce this concept. Trees are symbolic of life, but like the soldier, are also cut down and left for dead in the barren, desolate landscape.

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