US & Canada

War artist draws US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Media captionMichael Fay is a former US Marine whose primary interest is showing American forces at work

An American marine crouches, knee to the ground, weapon lowered but ready.

To his left flank, there is a line of trees. He is in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan.

All looks quiet, but there is tension in the air, as if the fighting could break out once more.

This is only a painting by American war artist Michael Fay.

But it could sum up the fears of many in the US military that President Barack Obama is pulling out his troops too quickly from Afghanistan, sacrificing any gains they have made on the battlefield.

It is a concern Mr Fay, a former US marine himself, shares.

He has spent much of the past decade documenting the lives of US troops in pencil and paint.

That was not the original plan. When he left the marines in the early 1990s, he concentrated on improving his artistic skills.

Image caption Mr Fay has spent much of the past decade sketching and painting US soldiers

But then he was asked to return as an official combat artist.

"And then 9/11 happened," says Fay, and he has been backwards and forwards to Afghanistan and Iraq ever since.

His interest is primarily in showing American forces doing their jobs, and that has sometimes attracted anti-war protesters to his shows.

But Mr Fay says people think differently when they see his work.

"It makes them realise these are just regular guys serving their country," he says.

'Virtual prisoners'

Making art out of war is a long established tradition. The British military have employed artists in Afghanistan.

Image caption Mr Fay's works portray a range of US soldiers, some of whom have been injured in combat

But as America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq start to wind down, Mr Fay is focusing on the home front, and the personal battles of the thousands of wounded veterans coping with their disabilities.

Modern medicine has allowed many to survive injuries which would have killed them in the past.

But some are virtual prisoners within their own bodies.

Even the simplest things may be beyond them, but Mr Fay's drawing show they won't give up.

"Many just want to be back in the fight," he says, adding that they "feel guilt that they've been wounded".

One striking drawing shows a veteran apparently falling out of his wheelchair. In fact he is learning how to get out and onto the floor, so he can play with his young son.

He is trying to promote other artists from within the military, calling this effort the Joe Bonham project.

It is named after a fictitious WWI soldier who survives an artillery attack but loses all his limbs, his face, eyes, ears and teeth, and so is literally imprisoned in what remains of his frame.

Michael Fay's wife is in the US reserves, the National Guard, and is due to be deployed to Afghanistan soon.

She has already served 18 months in Iraq and survived several bomb attacks there - so you might think Mr Fay would support President Obama's decision to start bringing troops home. Not a bit of it.

"If you're going to take away some of our warriors, that doesn't mean an equal number of the Taliban will say, 'Oh we're done too.' No, it's going to free them up to do other mischief."

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