Call & Response #2: In Love &War

Call & Response is a collaboration between Talk On, Combat Art Collective, and talented veterans and civilians seeking to talk about War. While most modern discussions seem to happen in the response columns below clickbait articles, the past two decades of American conflict begs a deeper and more nuanced conversation. And though there are many forums to endlessly debate the politics and strategy that guide our efforts overseas, there are far fewer that hone in on the experiences of the people on the ground who execute that strategy and then navigate their way home, often deeply changed. For the most part, our veterans are neither victims nor heroes, but simply Americans who approached armed service with agency and intention, and who have stories that can inform the choices our nation and communities will make in the future. If we don’t share those stories, and take heed of the reactions those stories inspire, we risk growing further apart.

So, to help share one of those stories and contend with the grey areas of personal experience in combat for the second round in this series (see the first here), we enlisted the help of Leo Jenkins, a veteran Ranger medic and published author. Leo shared his poem ‘In Love & War’, and participants, both vet and civilian, were asked to read the piece and respond with an original creative work in a format of their choosing. The responses say as much about the artists and writers as they do about Leo’s work, and help paint a picture of a larger community working to relate to one another.

Leo’s poem is shared in its entirety below, and is the title inspiration for the forthcoming Veteran poetry anthology In Love & War, published by Dead Reckoning Collective. Read his prompt first, then follow down the page to see responses in the order in which they were received.


Artist: Sarah Rosetti
Accepts commissions?: Yes

Artist: Neil Leinwohl
Artist Statement: My art is about personal mythology, the unreliable nature of memory. I begin by cloning images and shapes I randomly choose on to a digital canvas. I say random but in reality they are subconscious choices and meaningful. The layered images inform decisions and set a final path. The theme of transience resonates in my art, conceptually and in the context of grids. Stylized images appear and progressively fade out, then to reappear. Things are crossed out and re-interrupted by other images. They speak to the detail of memories that may be dulled by life. But also to the totality of the experience which will always be present. In a style based on an abstract compositional design that allows me to slip in and out of impressionistic imagery. My art tells a story of the profound events in my life that have created powerful memories and the emotional experiences of recalling them. But maybe you just like the colors, that’s all right also.

Artist: Sydney Carr
Artist Statement: The phoenix is representative of the effects of war on a veteran, rising from the ashes of war as someone new. The three soldiers represents the bond formed between soldiers. The road in the image of our nations flag represents the road to freedom that was paved by men and women in armed forces, and them standing on the road is representative of their walk back to civilization on that road.

Artist: David Murello
Artist Statement: The poem “I love…and War” brought me back to the countless games my brother and I played growing up. In my watercolor painting I tried to capture how we spent our youth infatuated with anything Military related. From the small arsenal of store bought and handmade weapons, to G.I.-Joe’s, and even Desert Storm baseball cards… ya we had the full set. As I painted I found myself reflecting on the importance of how literary and visual Art can create a shared experience or moment between us.
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Artist: Stephen Randall

Artist Statement: “In Love… &War” by Leo Jenkins moved me to sketch, much like I did as a combat artist in Vietnam in 1968, a composition of figures affected by fantasies as much as realities. When fantasy, depicted by innocent youth, meets reality, depicted by wounded warriors, there is a “take away”. The child may feel love or compassion, or sadness, or resolve, or may just turn away. The warrior may continue the fight, even with the help of prosthetics, or just back off and leave it to future generations. As for me, the thoughts of an old man are the deeds of a young man in his prime.
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Author: Emilio Gallegos
Artist Statement: As I read through Leo’s poem, I began to let my mind digest ideas of remembrance. As his piece reflects back over a larger number of years from stanza to stanza, I centered the focused of my thoughts on a specific time in my life, aiming to spark some often-unwelcomed feelings of a very specific nostalgia. For me, creating poetry comes in very purposeful spurts of excitement. The use of the word excitement here does not intend to mean that I am happy to dive into very personal subject matters, instead it is meant to explain that finding a “home” for very real feelings is an unexplainably rewarding experience. It is often spoke that one’s journey is in fact the destination, and as my insides have often longed for answers over the last ten and a half years, I have been comforted many times over by the power of a very purposeful journey with words. In looking to get started, I knew that I wanted to find a way to make a real connection to Leo’s poem with what I was creating, and adding the words “love” and “war” fell into place as soon as I got to jotting down sentence fragments and rhymes. Love is a crazy thing, full of so many ups and downs, as is war, and both continue to have heavy influences on my existence. I am thankful for this platform, and for the opportunity to create something in response to Leo’s work, and I look forward to what is to come from the many branches of this project.

Artist: Jessica Brightman
Artist Statement:
“Choose Your Weapon” // Either hand, either choice, either one has the power to destroy a man, just by different means and one more slowly than the other. And in this game of life—in both love and war—by getting involved you’ve already lost before you’ve even begun. You have already chosen to put it all on the line, to risk having control, to live through the pain (both mental and physical), and to walk into the unknown. Willingly. Again and again. But getting to the end of no ends? Beating your top score? Making it through the levels of Hell in war (and love)? That’s bliss. There is no comparison. It’s why, as much as it’s destroyed you, you’d still go back and do it all again. The question now is who has really been the opponent or the second player all along. Who or what have you been playing against? Or with? Choose your weapon wisely, but be more careful in choosing your perspective.
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Artist: Jin Park
Artist Statement: Leo’s poem begs to ask the question of whether a person becomes a warrior, or if they were born that way. Even more so, what is the difference between a warrior and a killer? He speaks of having killed a thousand men by the age of ten, making references to FPS games such as Call of Duty. Although it’s just a game, the question arises: Who really are the good guys? I wasn’t even at home when images and ideas began to click into place. When I was in Iraq, was I the good guy? When I got home, I went straight to my studio, set up my camera, and took a snapshot of myself aiming in. “I’m gonna draw myself as a kid playing Marine,” I told myself. I had ideas of drawing video game controllers sticking out of mag pouches, but I felt that drawing something from a time that was a bit before the COD era would be more suitable—timeless. So I drew our hero, Joe, lurking past what is symbolic of his childhood, having killed it with a grown up’s weapon. At the ready, Joe, I imagined, wanted so badly to be the Soldier he’s seen on TV, video games, comic books—Joe is a warrior in his own mind, and everyone wants to be like him.
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Artist: Steve Kost
Artist Statement: I really identified with the image of pulling a grenade pin with teeth. Something we did emulate as kids playing wargames in vacant fields. So I created this sculpture of a skull from an oxygen bottle cap and bike sprocket along with some screws and scrap metal for teeth.. I used a plumbing ball float and butter knife handle for the grenade. The Love and War piece seemed to indicate that the guy was feeling very much like a robot going through the cycle of training so I made sure to put some clockwork mechanisms inside of the skull for effect.
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Artist: Stephanie K
@stephdcrustpizza (inactive)
Accepts Commissions?: Yes

Artist: A.H. Romero
Artist Statement: When I read the prompt I thought about my youth and how the authors words resonated within me. I thought about how I would play soldier in the backyard as well as with my G.I.Joes. Then I got to thinking how those toys never came with a damn MRE and I sure didn’t recall Arnold or Stallone ever chowing down on some jalapeño cheese spread. I remembered eating cold MREs because there was no time for the heater. I remembered trading peanut butter for cheese and the joy a little bottle of Tabasco sauce would bring. The background of this painting is a monochromatic design of spiny Nopal cacti. Although different shades of purple in the painting they are found to be green in nature and to me they represent my mother’s cooking. It was a staple in her dishes and I grew to enjoy them every which way she cooked them. The middle ground of the painting is the diagram found on the actual MRE package that describes how to use the heater. It’s a very iconic image and easily recognized, at least for us grunts. The foreground has the portrait of deceased chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain. I was a big fan of his work, although didn’t agree 100% on his political views, I was quite shaken up by his suicide. After over a decade of following his exploits it came as a very unpleasant surprise. As a combat veteran with PTSD I could empathize with the symptoms that could lead to such a decision. I’ve also had Army buddies that have taken their lives. I painted Bourdain for many reasons but I feel like the foremost of them is to bring awareness to this issue. To continue the dialogue about mental health and mental illness and the reality that it knows no caste or creed.

Photographer: Nick Betts / @n_betts

Artist: Ash Royer
Artist Statement: After reading the prompt I came up with this idea of a marine looking at himself when he was younger playing war.

Disclaimer: Stillman Illera wants you to know that he knows he’s not an artist. He’s actually an aspiring writer. But he took a big swing on this one to get outside his comfort zone, classical art training be damned! We’re stoked to have him participate, just don’t quit your day job, Still!
Artist: Stillman Illera
Artist Statement: As kids, those of us who played “Army” would always pretend to kill each other. However, we never imagined it could happen in the real course of our lives. In my piece, I wanted to show a prideful kid dreaming about the glory of service. But, there is a lot more that comes with serving than just the dress blues and medals. In my simple piece, the background tombstones represent the reality of loss that is tied directly to the reality of war. I believe Mr. Jenkins was trying to represent that Love & War seem like antonyms, yet we can’t seem to separate them in action.

Artist: Andrew Storck
Artist Statement: In creating the sculpture for “In Love & War” I wanted something that combined aspects of the poetry that Leo wrote, and equipment every veteran has worn at one time during service. I read the poem several times, allowing the words to sink in. I felt like the aspect of the poem that stuck out most to me was about how as young boys both Leo and I obviously enjoyed “playing soldier.” I wanted to incorporate the childlike sense of war. The allure of adventure, mystery, danger and adrenaline. I felt like some children’s toys that symbolize the innocent sanitized ideas of war would work best for this aspect. I also wanted to combine the use of my sculptural techniques and a ceramic object to impart the knowledge we gain as adults about the realities of war. The ceramic helmet symbolized those realities. I left the ceramic object bare, showing the stone qualities of the material and the firing process. It was fired multiple times and reached temperatures in excess of 2400 degrees celsius. These firing processes leaves a clear indication that the helmet has been through hell and back and yet is still intact. 

Each responder dedicated time and effort to consider Leo’s words and story, and reply with a thoughtful piece that was informed by their own lives and understanding. While not every “conversation” can be so immersive (or visual…everyone loves pictures), it’s our hope that more conversations about war and growth can happen as we slowly extricate ourselves from two decades of conflict and integrate back into our communities at home.

Advance copies of the full In Love & War anthology, featuring poetry from over three dozen veterans, will be available this week via publisher Dead Reckoning Collective.

Keep an eye out for the next iteration of Call & Response, and reach out if you’d like to be invited to participate as a respondent or prompt writer.

One thought on “Call & Response #2: In Love &War

  1. Both the poem by Leo Jenkins and the artistic responses to it are powerful and moving….what a model of creative dialogue. Thank you. William Weeks, San Diego State University

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