Originally posted on TheClairion
Ana Bon, Art Director
September 21, 2016
Paintings about remembrances of the Vietnam War currently hang on the walls of Gallery 211 at Madison College’s downtown campus.
David Giffey, peace activist and war veteran, has found his “Long Shadow” series of paintings to be a peaceful way of confronting something terrible.
“I feel these are anti-war paintings,” said Giffey, sitting in the center of his gallery exhibition. “If someone disagrees with me, that’s their right, they don’t have to look.”
You can find elements of Giffey’s original black and white photographs in each of his paintings.
Next to each painting, you can read an expert from the personal journal that Giffey kept during combat.
“It’s a very private kind of journal but I share parts of it sometimes, ” he said. The chosen entries best describe Giffey’s memories and emotions regarding the paintings.
“Long Shadow” is a series of paintings that is different from Giffey’s preceding artwork. In contrast to his prior work, these paintings were done more quickly, and the coloration much redder, expressing the violence and his emotional outlook as an artist. He has decorated churches and painted murals, but these paintings are a more personal expression.
“I can’t imagine and I’ve never heard of a visual artist who tried to illustrate anything about the violence of war in any way other than just shocking violence imagery, and that is really what war is about, there is nothing romantic or peaceful about it,” he said.
“I hope that whoever really takes the time to examine, to look at the photographs, to read the labels, will realized that militarism and the traditions of militarism, really, really need to be examined,” said Giffey. Giffey’s paintings are not only an artistic expression, they are also a form of self-awareness.
“While I was in Vietnam in the war, I became very convinced that it was a terrible mistake,” said Giffey. “That we, American soldiers, should not have been there. It was not our concern.”
Giffey grew up on a very small dairy farm in Fond du Lac county in Wisconsin. He attended UW-Oshkosh but was really interested in writing and got a job with a newspaper. At that time, the ‘60s, if you weren’t in college, you were eligible to be drafted in the military. Giffey leaned towards writing over college and was drafted in 1964.
“Even though I had been politically active, I really hadn’t been aware of the south east Asia and Vietnam as a potential place where there would be a war. However, about a year later, I found myself on a ship going to Vietnam,” said Giffey.
When he was drafted for Vietnam, he was first trained as an artillery gunner, then reassigned to become the assistant editor of for the first infantry division. It was his duty to go into combat missions along with other soldiers to take photographs.
As soon as Giffey came back from war in 1966, he joined the peace movement
“I go to high schools and try to let young people know that there are alternatives to the military,” he said. “After the war in Vietnam, it was clear to me that I had to try to work for peace and justice whenever possible. It’s a helpful kind of work for me, just like visual art and writing, because it is non-violent.”
“My time in the Army and the war never leaves my mind. It was a difficult time and I will always try to overcome my participation in the military by following a peaceful path.”
Artist reception will be held Sept.22 at the Downtown Campus, with refreshments provided from noon to 2 p.m.
To see more of Giffey’s artwork you can visit davidgiffey.com.
Vietnam war veteran and artist David Giffey’s series of paintings – Long Shadow: Painted Remembrances of Vietnam – will be exhibited August 15 – September 30, 2016, at Gallery 211, located at 211 North Carroll Street, in the downtown Madison College (MATC) campus building. The exhibition will open to the public during regular gallery hours which are Mon-Thurs: 11am-5pm, Friday: 10am-2pm. An artist’s talk will be scheduled in September at a date to be announced.
Artist and journalist David Giffey, a Wisconsin native and active member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 25, was drafted and worked as a combat journalist in the 1st Infantry Division in the American War in Viet Nam during 1965 and 1966. Giffey’s murals are permanently installed in schools, community centers, public buildings, and Greek Orthodox Churches in the Upper Midwest and in Greece. He has completed hundreds of easel paintings by commission, and designed the earthen effigy mound “Dove of Peace” which was built at the Highground Veterans Memorial Park, Neillsville, Wisconsin.
Giffey’s series of large paintings – Long Shadows – has been exhibited widely including at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The Long Shadows paintings are based on photos taken during the war in Vietnam. The Long Shadows series includes six canvases painted from 1991 through 2013. His murals and other paintings are permanently installed in many public buildings including churches, schools, and community centers.
Giffey’s written publications include “Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace” (Atwood Publishing), “Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin,” and “The People’s Stories of South Madison.” He is an award-winning journalist and editor. Click here to view the exhibit flier.
When another generation of young Americans was sent to invade a distant nation at the start of the Gulf War in 1991, I was filled with anger and sadness and began working on the Long Shadow paintings. Photographs I took during the war as a combat journalist with the Army 1 st Infantry Division in Viet Nam inspired images for the canvases.
I made sketches and rough compositional layouts. The large format is comfortable for me since I’ve worked as a muralist for many years. The loosely hanging canvases remind me of the flimsy insecure tents we sometimes used.
I was determined to experiment artistically with my dismal, frightening, and emotional memories of war. But I didn’t anticipate the impressions of bloody explosions, violence, and loneliness that the work brought forth in my mind.
As a war veteran, I’m grateful that I have been able to work as an artist. Art is a peaceful outlet for the inner residue of war. Along with art, the love and support of family and friends, activism for peace and justice, a spiritual path, and writing have come together to make life precious beyond words.
By many standards my experiences in war were trivial. Yet not a single day has passed in 50 years when I am not aware of some aspect, a detail, of the war in Viet Nam. War casts a shadow of trauma. Veterans return home with that shadow permanently attached to their psyches, and pass it along to their families, friends, and communities. The antidote to the contagion of war is peace. But the peaceful cure is repeatedly preempted when young people are sent to another war, which will end only with the death of its final survivor.
By Paul McMahon, Chapter 25
On Thursday, July 14, 2016, the Dane County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution honoring “Atomic Veterans”. Beginning on July 16 th , 2016 and every following July 16th henceforth, Dane County honors the service of those who were victimized by the US government in the name of “safe” atomic weapons research between August 1945 through the passage of the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963 which finally out-lawed atmospheric testing.
The success of the County resolution is in no small manner due to the tireless efforts of Chapter 25 member Lincoln Grahlfs over a great number of years. The resolution was introduced and sponsored by his county supervisor Mary Kolar.
Chapter 25 commends Lincoln—as well as his fellow “atomic veterans”—for this significant accomplishment. We thank Mary Kolar for her sponsorship and support.
What follows is the resolution, including a summary of the historic plight of the atomic veterans. The resolution was read in full and explained by Supervisor Kolar. (Note: See accompanying photographs taken at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center two days later, at a program presented by Lincoln.)
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Dane County Atomic Veterans Recognition Day July 16
Millions have served our country through military service including in wartime. Most came home and continued to serve their communities in the best ways they were capable of. Veterans Day acknowledges the military service of our fellow citizens; on Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their lives that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms of life in these United States.
While many military service members could expect to face life threatening conditions on battle fronts, most were not prepared nor expected to be a part of our country’s experiments with weapons of mass destruction.
On July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated. Three weeks later, on the 6th and 9th of August, atomic bombs were exploded over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Though the bombings precipitated the conclusion of war between Japan and the U.S., reaction to the destruction and unfathomable death toll in the two Japanese cities was overwhelming. There were widespread calls from both scientists and lay persons for such weapons to be outlawed.
Yet, there were elements in our government who were intrigued by this new line of weapons. In a short time, the U. S. Navy called for volunteers to participate in a program to test the effectiveness of atomic weapons against naval vessels.
The number of volunteers fell far below expectations, so personnel were simply assigned to this operation, and many others that followed. Between 1945 and 1963, the United States conducted some 235 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and the American Southwest.
At least 220,000 American service men and women witnessed and participated in these tests, or served in forces occupying Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately following World War II. They were exposed to the potentially harmful effects of ionizing radiation in these weapons. Many of them have endured serious health consequences.
These service members, who refer to themselves as Atomic Veterans, are generally proud to have served their country.
They feel, however, that they were forced to be subjects in a risky experiment for which they were denied the option of informed consent.
It is only fitting that their dedication to duty be afforded proper recognition by Dane County and be brought to the attention of all Americans.
Be it resolved that July 16th, in this and ensuing years, be known as ATOMIC VETERNS RECOGNITION DAY.
/s/Sharon Corrigan, Chair
Dane County Board of Supervisors
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