In 1945, Life magazine reproduced a painting by the artist, war correspondent, and novelist Thomas C. Lea III that depicted a haggard and unnamed U.S. Marine. Titled Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare in the feature, the image of an exhausted combatant’s large, sunken, far-focused eyes captured the numbing effect that the death, destruction, chaos, and violence of war have on warriors and civilians alike.
Over the decades the distance has been halved, but the phrase “thousand-yard stare” still speaks to the damage done to the human psyche — even to those not physically injured — by the trauma engendered by war’s savagery.
The Sunflower Network has taken the term to heart in its second New York–based benefit exhibition, presenting eight Ukrainian artists who have created new works in their war-torn country.
Charcoal calligraphy pieces by Nikita Kadan (b. 1982, Kyiv) do not mince words about Russian aggression. Such exhortations as “CHEAP GAS / CHEAP BLOOD” or “DO NOT TRADE WITH FASCISTS” speak truth to the powers that be — some of whom might well be art collectors.
Maria Kulikovska (b. 1988, Kerch) had to leave her hometown in Crimea after Russia invaded in 2014, and she reflects that anguish through watercolor portraits in which rich magentas, aquas, yellows, and other intense colors bleed into Soviet-era sheets of paper used for architectural drawings.
Sasha Kurmaz (b. 1986, Kyiv) gathered books exalting Russian imperialism throughout the centuries and used these Russian-language volumes as props to hold up a large framed photograph of civilians lying dead on a street in Bucha, Ukraine, in April 2022. By using such tomes to underpin images of war crimes, Kurmaz exposes the tortured historical propaganda at the base of Putin’s war of aggression.
A 2022 color Polaroid print by Dom Marker (b. 1990, Kharkiv) captures the almost surreal level of violence Russia has inflicted on Ukraine: Untitled #30 depicts a large, framed portrait of a bare-breasted woman jutting from the smashed windshield of a bomb-blasted car in a residential Kharkiv neighborhood completely destroyed by Russian artillery. In Mother’s Day, photographed this year, a child sitting in his mother’s lap in the front seat of a car waves a gun out the window. Through the simple gesture of exposing the image as a negative, Marker further conjures the madness and menace of war.
All of the artists in the show are contributing these works to help raise money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. The Sunflower Network has already brought in $3.5 million in aid from various sources, with $600,000 coming from Sonya Gallery art exhibits.
It’s not often your art-collecting funds go to a good cause, beyond supporting artists (and that only counts if you’re collecting the lesser-known living rather than dead blue-chippers). So buy some work from this show and help get art back to its original purpose: objects to dazzle hearts and minds instead of engorging some investor’s balance sheet. ❖
More:War in Ukraine