Canadians at War

Art show review by Chris Little

Glory flags, alongside the faces of horses staggering half-dead, waving their own battlefield message: When painters go to war, is the crusade to bring the enemy to Justice or a combat with Justice itself? WWI to Colville horror retrospective – canvases worth remembering after the wars are over. Through Jan. 03. (Art Gallery of Ontario, 317  Dundas West, 979-6648)

            Gore before the viewers eye, yet that gore only lays before them because of scenes chosen by the painter. An open battlefield with a plethora of options, yet what is it that compels an artist to pick only one. Whether consciously or subconsciously, the artist’s chosen subject matter depicts more then the moments in time that they freeze upon their canvases.
The war painting retrospective on display at the AGO depicts the horror and brutality of the act of war. While only observers to the madness that war is, the exhibition brings the viewer to question what role the artist has in war.
Much of the work serves to glorify the act of war itself. The work, while quite striking, is in itself propaganda for the war machine, for all war machines. To view this work is to be lead to believe that there does exist some form of perverse beauty in war.
Taking out the cries of dying men: omitting earth shaking sounds of exploding bombs and removing the stench of decaying flesh, one is left to ponder, can war really be much different from a carefully constructed ballet.
Alas, most of the artists involved in the exhibition seem to all fall into the same pitfall, they depict specific moments in war, yet beyond the moment there is little left to ponder. A broadened view of war itself, of the casualties off of the battlefield, would have helped this exhibition to relay a deeper message.
Had the shutters on the window to war been opened up broader, the exhibition wouldn’t have seemed so anti-climatic.

Much of the work of this exhibition deals with the allied war effort, and as such it’s a rather one sided view of the subject which it is meant to depict. Alas, while visually stimulating, a more varried approach would have enhanced the overall exhibition.