by Matthew Kaplan
Growing up, war imagery surrounded him, from green plastic toy army men and G.I. Joes to World War II movies, and that imagery infiltrated his art.
“A lot of my art has to do with the idea of war,” artist and Somerville resident Bob Stearns said. “I’ve been interested in it for a while now.”
The “War, Madness, and Delusion” art exhibit, which runs until April 15 at the Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, features artwork from Stearns and 32 other artists that deals with the ideas and imagery surrounding war.
Exhibit curator James Herbert said he came up with the idea for this art exhibit about four years ago, during the early stages of the Iraq War.
“It bothered me, the War in Iraq,” he said. “Delusionary people [are] leading our kids to die.”
About 67 artists, from Somerville to Australia, submitted pieces. Herbert, along with Rev. Karl Gustafson, pastor of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, and two others helped select the featured pieces.
piece by Katherine Martin Widmer
“I’m looking for pieces with impact,” Herbert said. “There’s decorative art and then there’s declarative art. This is declarative art.”
The one work in the exhibit by Stearns, a painting entitled “Atomic Veteran,” uses mostly black and red to depict a crouched-over man in a green army helmet surrounded by mountains and an ‘apocalyptic’ red sky, he said.
“That piece came from a couple of dreams I had,” Stearns said.
At the time he created the piece, he said he was reading a book about nuclear testing conducted with soldiers during the 1950s.
In addition, the exhibit also features the work of fellow Somerville artist Katherine Martin Widmer.
Widmer’s featured piece, a painting she started about four years ago entitled ‘Imagine That,’ depicts a baby’s face painted blue with some of the lyrics of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ transcribed over it.
Widmer said she was painting the piece one Saturday afternoon in the same room as some of her art students. She then asked one teenage pupil to print out the lyrics of the song. Instead, a tall quiet students of hers, a man named Oscar originally from Guatemala, stood up and began to sing the entire song, she said.
“At the end of it, everyone had tears in their eyes, including me,” Widmer said.
She said the theme of war is featured prominently in her work. Widmer said she first began to develop her current ideas about war during the late 1960s.
“Every night in the news, you would see body bags,” she said. “I [was] just completely changed from that.”
Since then, Widmer said she had been involved in numerous antiwar efforts, from marching in front of armed National Guardsmen during the 1968 Democratic Convention to creating anti-nuclear weapons pamphlets during the 1970s.
Two other pieces Widmer submitted for consideration for the exhibit featured images and themes relating to the first Gulf War and other violent events over the past 15 years.
“This is a subject with a long history in my heart,” she said.