The oil-on-canvas painting, “Untitled, Afghanistan,” by Kristopher Battles, captures a moment between Marines talking with locals overseas as part of their civil affairs work.
“It tells a narrative; there’s these two different cultures meeting,” Battles said, “two groups who normally would not be talking.”
It’s one of Battles’ favorite pieces on display as part of a new art exhibit at the Tampa International Airport called MacDill Air Force Base At Home and Abroad, which opened just before the Super Bowl and runs through the summer. The exhibit in the airport’s main terminal gallery, and viewable online, features photographs, paintings and drawings by military servicemembers and veterans.
They show service life at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and in the 20-country area of operations for the U.S. Central Command, a unit headquartered at MacDill, said Erin Dorrance, spokeswoman for the command.
“Art is another way for us to honor the past and inspire the future,” Dorrance said, “so we thought this exhibit was perfect.”
Much of the artwork came from artists associated with service branches’ official art programs, Dorrance added. This includes the work of Battles, who served as a combat artist in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He lives in Virginia and is the artist in residence for the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
As a combat artist, he would take his pencil box and camera, and sketch and photograph key scenes, Battles said. Once back in the U.S. or whenever he could get to a studio, he would print out the photographs, work on compositions, put them on canvas and have more time to paint.
His paintings, which include portraits of servicemembers and slices of life — like Marines napping together — are intended to communicate what happens on a deployment. His subjects become symbolic representations of every Marine, sailor, soldier and airman.
“I want people 50 or 100 years from now to know what people who served overseas in the early 21st century experienced while onboard ship or in a Forward Operating Base,” Battles said.
Having the exhibit in the airport and on a virtual gallery opens it to people who might not go to a military museum where this kind of work would be on display.
For the airport administration, it offered an opportunity to build on its relationship with MacDill. The two entities share the Hillsborough County air space, and many returning servicemembers reunite with their loved ones at the airport, said Danny Valentine, a spokesman.
For units at MacDill, such as U.S. Central Command, the opportunity to showcase the work to visitors who came for the Super Bowl was an added plus.
“We wanted visitors to know how important the connection is between MacDill and the community,” Dorrance said.