Sunday, June 26, 2011

Project ECHO - a human sustainability series for combat veterans.

(In the next few weeks, I will edit and publish a series of artworks and poetry by Mark Smith. I will also contribute to part of this series with my own writing. This is part of our current project ECHO. Check back daily and we hope our message will be clear at the conclusion of this series.) 

 - Mark Smith

The seascape settled. The waves that had once lurched upward on their crests and beaten against the hull of the perched ship receded. Overhead the gust of wind calmed to a steady stream. A pair of seagulls spanned their soft wings riding the breeze upward, swaying in the sunset lit skies creating a poetic dance. They crossed each other back and forth disappearing after a time. The weary seamen regained their strength having weathered the long expedition to never seen before lands. Filled with enthusiasm and strife, the vessel’s voyage had been much more fraught with danger than anticipated.

The expedition was to be of minimal risk.The short venture grew into a long and prolonged test of each man’s will to survive. Desperate conditions shaped their stories. The pounding sea brought fabulous storms and indescribable creatures; the danger became impossible arousing mutiny. They had not stood on the earth for some time. The men had suffered from the whipping winds and tumultuous waves. Their attack had been led by the men from below the deck, fire from the combat seared the sail and lit the skies.

The Captain commanded the vessel Aspirant Tritogeniea with determination and knowledge of the winds. His command had almost been overthrown, but for now the mutiny had settled. Unable to hold on to their anger, the crew looked at the sea. Everyone’s heart was seated and joined into glorious singing hailing the gods for their safe delivery. Glazed teary eyes peered onto the vista of land spreading in front of the battered vessel on the horizon.

- Mark Smith
The use of creativity takes many forms of expression. My works use diverse media methods to achieve the best gesture of creativity. The essential nature of my practice is to be adaptive and flexible. I focus my skills and perceptions on the fusion between my psychic inner world and outer experiences. This combination brings powerful and hidden aspects of life to the surface of consciousness. The scrawling chalk with unpredictable rhythms of gesture, blends subject matters together illuminated by the dark streaking expansive backdrops and watercolor environments. They wrap around the corporeal tenants and luminous meadows revealing a metaphysical landscape.

I have been absorbed with subjects of war since my deployment to Iraq in 2004. I patrolled the streets of Mosul as a medic in an infantry battalion. The tales of that year is one of tragedy and triumph - it is one of sadness and joy, for which I have a lifetime to reflect on the things witnessed. The images are still vivid. The ferocity of war imprinted upon my mind. I will never forget the twisted steel mixed with fleshy carnage. My heart sinks when I recall a decimated group of children while a mother looks on in horror. The memory bleeds straight through me. In my efforts to find a meaning, I use my art to honor the greatest triumph of the human spirit of these grave moments.

This is my role as an artist. My art reveals the cast of characters caught in the drama of war. The tyrants, heroes, villains and the innocent are characters of a drama whose tragic moments ripple throughout my eternity. The motifs of my work share expressions of these experiences. Some are good and some are bad, some deserves honor and must be celebrated. Still I am compelled to recreate many images in order to purge the emotional toxicity from my being. The truth is that these illustrations represent my persistent state of mind, apparitions and haunting memories assail me in every day. Still I try to make some sense of it all. My life fused with past events. This makes orientation to everyday toils a challenging undertaking. Everything becomes a strange ethereal environment that mirrors my inner world projected onto my external experience. This duality of experiences makes visible the integration of my two world.

-Mark Smith

The following works of art engage the human experience on the spiritual, epistemological, emotional and metaphysical levels. These images represent my state of being while I undertak the artistic voyage to discover my own mythological language. I sought to release forms that represented archetypal qualities to interpret my language and the best way was to write about how I felt as I looked at art. I did not want to guide my words with feelings of obligation; instead, I practiced free association. The process has been alleviating and revealing.

Watercolor, Charcoal, Pen & Ink 9X12”

- Mark Smith
The initiation process had begun
He stepped forward taking the hands of great uncertainty with profound determination
The veil clamored making its presence known
Wrestling against the anxiety of letting go I grasped at the first of several great mysteries
The guides were there and watched as watchers do
They waited without anticipation or desire invisible to my naked eyes.
My intentions and virtue weighed on karmic scales
The moment had eclipsed my life and meeting with the first stages of my apprenticeship.
The beginning as I remembered was far more challenging than I had realized.
Bound by desperate beliefs and insecurities of my first adversary took form before me.
The head rose from great blackness breathing sweltering flames that shook my confidence and caused great fear in my heart, before my eyes my uncertainty manifested into stretching mist
My feet labored against the rocks and stone
Arching my back against the slick sharp walls, I peered through the engulfing mist
The thickness of his thoughts
The unending maw of inward churning
Each thought unraveling the next
I had to begin by undoing

APRRENTICESHIP: This image was my first studio sketch in the fall of 2008. I was facing a great deal of mental noise that caused a serious creativity block. I tried hard to distract myself from the disturbance. I thought that drawing the turmoil would help me overcome it. I intended the colors to overpower the physical form of the man. The colors and smudges are the emotions and thoughts surrounding the man occupied with translating his own substance to a sheet of paper. It was what I was feeling. I was taking on a new form. The difficult part is allowing the habits of my mind to go.


I began to keep a journal when I moved from Beijing to Cincinnati. At first I wrote in Chinese. I wrote poetry mostly and I wrote confusedly about the home I lost and friends I can no longer remember.

Slowly I lost my ability to articulate in Chinese. I read English books at first to learn the language. Pretending to read on the school bus also kept others from talking to me – a unique advantage when I understood no one and no one seemed to understand me.

Gradually I learned to read and understand English. I put writing aside to immerse into the world of Lonesome Dove and Being and Nothingness. The more I read, the less I knew. I began to write again to reconcile my past and present. I only dreaded the future because my writing was, and perhaps still is, immature.

I never cared for the skill of writing, but I wrote feverishly because I needed to speak of the incomprehensible me. I needed to speak but I could not tell, I lived with a contradiction and I lived in my philosophical babel.

My apprenticeship came from experiences: losing my home and friends, losing my mind, losing my faith in myself. But I always took up the pen and wrote. For me, it wasn’t as much as about beginning the process, it was about making sense of the process.

To be continued . . .

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