In 2005 I started working on a way to connect to the wars Iraq and Afghanistan. I had learned from working with the public before that a public, a group of regular people, can express themselves in a powerful way if given a chance. I spent the next nine years seeking out a cross section of the Americans who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked each person what they would say about themselves and war. To persuade each person to talk and to present their words in a compelling way, I painted an oil portrait of each speaker showing their head and shoulders at life size.
As soon as I started working with veterans, veterans' families, and others who had gone to war, I became more than a spectator. Many people explored the meaning of their experience in war in conversation with me as we worked in the studio. Somehow the art studio became an important place for reckoning what the wars were; what these wars have meant on a personal level. There is no way to fully comprehend the American experience of these wars. Yet I hope this work provides a glimpse. It may provide a small snapshot of our moment in history. It is small because each person shows only a small part of their experience through what they chose to say, it is small also because 2.5 million people have deployed to the wars between 2001 and 2014. Each portrait here represents 25,000 people.
I am deeply thankful to everyone who allowed me to paint their portrait and who stepped forward and provided some words for this work. My profound gratitude also to all of the families of the fallen who allowed me to do portraits of their loved ones and who provided the words to go with those portraits.
The 100 Faces project shows a cross section of the Americans who have gone to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One hundred people are chosen to represent the statistics of the American involvement in these conflicts. Each person meets the artist and has their portrait painted. Then that person choses what they would like to say next to their portrait. The people pictured in this project can say whatever they want next to their portrait.
The artist believes that people in general are capable of great eloquence when talking about an issue of import. When given the right framework for working together, people from many different perspectives can address an issue in a nuanced, illuminating, and provocative way.
It is the artist's belief that the sum total of the words in the 100 Faces project will speak profoundly of the weight of the American personal experience of war. Yet people may say whatever they want and, naturally, the work may have many interpretations.
The 100 Faces exhibition can serve as a meaningful place for veterans and for the public to contemplate the American experience of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone who has gone from America into these wars should be able to see some particular part of their own experience reflected in the words and biographies of the people shown in the 100 Faces project.
More about the 100 Faces project:
One very important part of this project is that it is meant to be a cross section of the American experience of these wars. It is a survey. If someone is included in the project it does not mean the artist thought they were more important than other people. The goal was to try to find a range of people that represent all the different statistics of the American involvement. Therefore this is not meant to be a gallery of people who represent some ideal of service. Instead it is an attempt at a simple, open look at what the American involvement has been.
That said, there are ten portraits included that show people who died in service, and the artist would like to acknowledge the risks and dangers faced by all of those who have gone from America into the war zones. For these portraits the artist talked with the families concerned. The families provided photos to work from and they provided the words that accompany the portrait. Ten is a larger number than would be shown in this project if the artist had stuck to pure statistics for these choices. However the artist believed it was important to show this part of war. The artist is deeply thankful for all the families that have allowed him into their grief. Providing the pictures and the words has been a great challenge to many of the families concerned. The posthumous portraits were chosen to show the different kinds of mortal dangers Americans have faced in these wars and the different backgrounds of the people serving in these wars.
The artist Matt Mitchell started the 100 Faces project of his own initiative in 2005 and completed the work in 2014. The project consists of 100 Portraits of Americans who have been to the theaters of war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Each portrait is accompanied by words chosen by the person pictured and a brief bio of that person. The bio, the words, and the portrait reflect that person in that moment. All of the portraits and words will be kept together and exhibited together as a single unit, a single installation.
The artist met each person pictured in the project and started their portrait in that meeting. The meetings lasted from 2 hours to 8 hours. Some participants came to the studio several times for as much as 18 hours together. The paintings measure 26"x30" showing each person's head and shoulders at life size. The paintings are oil on canvas painted in traditional layering techniques. The total time Matt spent on each painting wass between 40 and 80 hours. For posthumous portraits the families provided photos to work from and provided the words to accompany the portrait.
The artist did not know what any person would say when they were chosen to be part of the project. Instead each person was chosen based on statistical data. This group is meant to be a cross section of the American experience. A few allowances were made to show particular jobs or roles that marked signature experiences of these wars. For the majority of portraits, however, the goal was to get the the whole project to accurately represent the proportions of the American involvement. In order to develop a good working picture of the statistics Matt worked with Dr. Dan Burland, a sociologist of the American Military and the Family in 2009, after working on his own for four years. Together they interpreted Department of Defense statistics to understand the proportions for several categories of background and role in the war zone. These categories include: branch of service, gender, race, career field, dates of deployment, country deployed to, and officer vs. enlisted. The 100 Faces project also includes 5 people who went from America into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a civilian capacity. These people include a non governmental organization worker, a journalist/artist, a federal worker, and contractors. These civilians are shown to acknowledge this part of the American civilian involvement in these wars. The 100 Faces project also represents at least one person from each of the 50 states.
The people who are part of this project have performed a service by being in the project. Often it is very difficult for people to talk publicly about who they are in the context of having gone to war. The artist is thankful for each participant who has taken the time to illuminate difficult issues or who has boldly taken the project in their own direction. Yet it must be clear that 100 Faces is not intended to be a gallery of heroes. People were chosen to represent a cross section. All kinds of people are shown here. The project is meant to portray a candid picture of the Americans who have gone to these wars. No effort was made to include people with problems relative to the law or relative to human decency, yet people were not turned away if they fit the needed demographics and they apparently had some kind of problem.
The portraits and the statements will be kept together and exhibitted as a single artwork.
Thank you for taking the time to look at 100 Faces of War Experience.