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War and its metaphors

Prior to America’s invasion of Iraq, Steve Mumford was making a good living for himself as a New York-based artist. Mumford was known for large, meticulously executed oil paintings that explored the collision between human civilization and the natural world.

But when the war began, Mumford left the solitary confines of his Manhattan studio and set off to become an embedded war artist.  On six different trips to Iraq between 2002 and 2008, Mumford traveled all over the country, sometimes embedded with the U.S. military, and sometimes out on his own with various Iraqis he met along the way.  Throughout that time, Mumford drew and painted a remarkable series of on-the-spot portraits of life in the war zone. Many of those drawings and watercolors were published on the website, and some were also published in Mumford’s book “Baghdad Journal.”

When Mumford came home from Iraq, he’d return to his studio and begin months of work on a series of large oil paintings.  These are remarkably different in style and tone from his dispatches from Iraq. The most recent set of these paintings were shown at the Postmasters Gallery in New York.

Recently, Alison Stewart sat down with Mumford to talk about his time in Iraq and how his artistic practice had been changed by his time in the Middle East.  In this short “First Look” excerpt, Mumford describes the thinking behind one of his most striking new oil paintings. The painting is called “The Prostitutes” and it depicts two Iraqi prostitutes floating in a hotel swimming pool inside the Green Zone in Baghdad.  Take a look.

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