Military aircraft in art are all too often presented in a illustrative way with a simplistic, and often patriotic or celebratory, tone. One exception to this is the work of Lad Decker, we caught up with the Seattle-based artist to find out more about her obsession with helicopters and war.
What were you trying to capture through this painting series?
“Helicopters are fascinating creatures. The invention of the airplane reflects man’s desire to fly. But it was the helicopter that reflects man’s conflicting desires for power. It’s a defender and rescuer, as well as an attacker and revenger.
One of the best descriptions of the ambiguous and seductive role of the helicopter is in Michael Herr’s book, “Dispatches”. In the story the photojournalist Tim Page is given an assignment with the purpose of taking the glamour out of war. Page responds, “Take the glamour out of war! I mean, how the bloody hell can you do that? Go and take the glamour out of a Huey, go take the glamour out of a Sheridan.… Can you take the glamour out of a Cobra or getting stoned at China Beach?”
Can you talk a bit about your drawings?
“The helicopters appeared in my drawings first. Drawing is a way to look and think. Because the pencil line hides nothing, the drawing is an honest record of complex feelings. I’m not an engineer and don’t want to look at lifeless facts and dull dimensions. I’m looking for the truth, which is a dangerous thing when others don’t want you to find it. I’m focused on the subjective, first-person point of view, which is an honest way to say here’s what I see. Truth resides in the emotion and feelings we have towards what we create. The things we create reflect what we believe is important. They embody what we want to do and what we wish to become. I’m just an observer. “
What helicopters inspire you the most, and why?
“The Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey”, the AH-64 Apache, and the UH-60 Black Hawk are the ones I tend to look at most lately. They are iconic helicopters that embody the duality of man as both protector and villain. The long rotor blades stretch out like arms. The fuselage stands strong, confident, and purposeful. In action, it can switch between the role of protector, warrior, and rescuer to attacker, revenger, and villain. It embodies the best and worst about humanity. It’s a reminder that we are capable of many things and must choose who we want to be. “
What other projects are you working on now?
“Obviously, I’m interested in the Vietnam War, which is most represented by the Huey. It’s easy to recognize those paintings by their dark and lush greens. Other paintings are about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with their khaki dust landscapes, devastated buildings and mountain roads. These War Field painting series often contain elements of helicopters.
Fixed-wing fighter jets like the MiG-21 and the T-38A Talon are starting to show up in my work. Not only do fighter jets reflect man’s desire for power, but their country of origin reveals the complex international order. It reflects each nation states’ desire to set the global agenda. We’re living during a time of great change and great conflict. Someone recently asked why I was interested in the subject of war when it was an end game. War is about human conflict. There seems to be no end to that.
I’m currently working on my next show on war and conflict. If anyone is interested in finding out more or would like to get a closer look at work in progress, I encourage them to follow me online at www.LadDecker.com, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.”