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thedrifter
09-10-07, 09:14 AM
The Florida Times-Union

September 10, 2007

As bullets fly, Marine takes out a sketchpad

By Paulette Perhach,
St. Augustine Record


His orders are simple: "Go to war, do art."

Since the beginning of World War II, this has been the battle cry of the few Marine combat artists.

Packing his pistol with his watercolors, his easel with his M-16, artist Kris Battles ships out soon to fill the mission that has fallen upon only 350 others this century.

To make art out of war.

Battles, 39, moved a year ago from St. Augustine to Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to begin his short-term deployments. He's already had one run in Iraq, and this month, he heads out again with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263.

The exact date of the departure and the nature of mission are classified. However, a focal point of the trip is the Osprey, what the military calls "the most flexible, capable and revolutionary combat troop transport aircraft in the world."

Battles left to go to war in October, while his wife, Kelly, stayed behind with their 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, 2-year-old son, Jack, and 8-week-old daughter, Kate.

"It's tough," Kelly said. "When he first told me about it, I thought he was crazy. But he's preserving our history. ... He's able to tell the real side of it that we don't get to see in the news. The human side."

'Take pictures, watch out'

Based out of Camp Fallujah, Battles traveled with different units throughout his three-month stay.

"You spend time with them. You draw and take pictures, video," Battles said. "You have to take pictures and watch out."

Trying to sketch daily, he caught the lives of the soldiers during their downtimes, as they passed time with handheld video games, napped with their hats tilted over their faces, or hunched over games of chess.

Crossing the Anbar province almost to Syria and near Jordan, he observed their work, maintaining jets, patrolling and greeting with the locals of the region.

"The best thing I saw over there was the interactions of the Marines with the populace, in a very positive way. We saw tribal people who had been at best indifferent to the Americans were quite positive. A lot of progress was being made," he said.

But all the while being an artist, he never forgot he was a Marine.

"There were times ... that I was relatively safe, back at Camp Fallujah or wherever I was. I'd be able to sketch from the photographs I'd taken. So I was more of an artist at that time," he said. "But when you're on patrol, you are very much predominantly a Marine, because your buddies are depending on you being very much alert, and you're depending on being alert and on them being alert.

During tense patrols, he uses a camera instead of a sketchpad and paints the scenes later.

"When you're on convoy, there's a chance there's an IED there, they have to sweep the road, so you're always watching, always wondering if it's going to happen, of course," he said.

Foot patrol is even worse, he said. "Not only are you wondering about IEDs, but snipers and regular combat situations."

There are two of them

Though Battles never served active duty, he held a reservist status for a decade right out of high school until 1996.

He didn't think combat artists still existed until he hit upon "Fire and Ice," a blog by combat artist Michael Fay, in 2005. After contacting the artist, Battles was eventually invited to join the program. He's now one of two combat artists in all of the U.S. military.

Battles said the history of the world has been seen through battle art, all the way back to the Egyptian days.

"Art has always been documenting things, especially before cameras," Battles said. "Art still has a place. ... There's something very human in taking a pencil or a paintbrush and creating an image. There's something that communicates across the board."

If all artists want their work to be remembered, Battles will have no problem. His work goes into the U.S. National Archives.

With the Osprey going on its first deployment, Battles said he's looking forward to being there as history is made, capturing the first glimpses of the new aircraft. Work on display To see the work of Kris Battles, go to his blog, Sketchpad Warrior, at www. kjbattles.blogspot.com. His work will be on display this month at Cousart Studios in St. Augustine. During October, the Art Advocate will dedicate a space entirely to him.

Ellie