Born: Chicago, Illinois, 1943 Served in Vietnam, U.S. Army 501st Assault Helicopter Company Bien Hoa Helicopter Crew Chief and Door Gunner, 1965-66
From the Artist:
From a conversation: The spirit is unwordable, unpaintable.
I did the sculpture and drawings in Vietnam, during the war. Later I used to have a kind of shrine in my studio, a collection of artifacts from another time: my helmet, some shells, other things GIs carried. I can remember my head shaved so it would fit inside the helmet...and these shells, the tracers on them left a beautiful yellow-orange trail after you fired them. The Zippo lighter, my flack-jacket cover...the gun I had smelled of the oil and cleaning bath; it stunk. That old gun had seen some fighting. Later I traded it to an Air Force guy for five gallons of ice cream....
In the 1800s Indians wore a shirt or vest during some mystical ghost dances they did to protect themselves from death before they went into battle; and I'll be damned, a lot of them didn't get killed. What I'm saying is, a warrior—any warrior—has something happen when he puts on his battle clothes—you feel that it gives you a kind of magical power, makes you invisible or gives you strength inside. So something takes over that as a rational person you know it is ridiculous. But if you thought that way in combat you'd be dead. You're so vulnerable....You know, there is a certain strange high, an excitement about somebody shooting at you and you at them. I'm telling you it's something that puts your nerve endings outside your body—you know about it, you can feel it, you can smell it. This atmosphere is very oppressive. It's hard to breathe and pushes on your shoulders. This heavy air, the heat, the humidity of Vietnam, is something you don't know. It's the kind of air you can feel touching your body and pushing at you.
Recently, someone was talking to me about how cruel the ancient Romans must have been, when killing became a sport to them; watching people die in arenas was a pastime. Hard to understand? The world was doing it again in the 1960s. I came back from Vietnam to see people eating dinner on their TV trays while they watched the carnage: the new Colosseum.