The covers of Rick Veitch's recently concluded Army@Love: The Art of War featured appropriations of famous works of art, updated to include figures in military dress and war-torn landscapes. At first I thought it was an cute, eye-catching gimmick but as I studied the covers I realized that each one was actually carefully chosen to reflect on the themes Veitch explores in his work. Here's an infodump for those of you who aren't into art.
Issue #1 is obviously Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The original Mona Lisa is, of course, famous for her enigmatic half-smile, and here that smile is used to emphasize the central dichotomies of Army@Love. Is she happy, melancholic, or just keeping up appearances? Is she thinking about the war or distrated by thoughts of something else? What's up with that "Hot Zone" patch on her shoulderpads? What the hell is she even doing there in the first place? The dream-like landscape of the original has been replaced by the bleak, depressing landscape of Afbaghistan, dragging the central figure from the world of the sublime to bleak, depressing Afbhagistan.
Any appropriation of the Mona Lisa calls to mind Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q, in which he scribbed a moustache and goatée on the central figure. L.H.O.O.Q. was one of the opening salvos of the Dada movement, which both abhored and reveled in the nonsensical nihilism of early 20th-century culture, much as Army@Love is both laughing with and at its self-obsessed no-perspective army. Even the title of Duchamp's work plays into Veitch's sexual themes, since when "L.H.O.O.Q." is pronounced quickly in French it sounds like "she's got a hot ass."
Issue #2 is a repurposing of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. The themes of Hoppers' original are alienation and isolation, and Veitch's rendition explores these themes further. The soldiers are seemingly unaware (or indifferent to) the suffering of the tortured counterman, the war-torn world around them, or even each other. In Nighthawks, this alienation is merely depressing, but in Army@Love it becomes practically monstrous.
Issue #3 may be a bit more obscure than the others, but any art history lover will instantly recognize it as Édouard Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe. Manet's original caused quite a scandal for numerous reasons, including its frank depiction of a modern nude (as opposed to an acceptable historical or mythological nude) and for the way in which it called attention to the way in which it was painted. Like Manet, Veitch is depicting an uncomfortably modern scene (a war satire set in WWII or Vietnam would be perfectly acceptable, but one set in Iraq isn't?), and while he may not be deliberately drawing attention to his own technique he's definitely drawing attention to the way in which the war is being conducted.
I'm also impressed that Veitch managed to convince DC to publish a cover with two naked figures on it, when the same company freaks out over the mere possibility that Superman might enjoy an occasional adult beverage.
You may think that issue #4 is an appropriation of Whistler's Mother but you're wrong. It is, in fact, an appropriation of James McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1 (A Portrait of the Artist's Mother). (Hey, let me be pedantic, it's all that I've got.) The original is a masterful piece of tonal arrangement, but here its tranquil yin-yang composition is ruined by bullet holes and dead bodies, which really speaks for itself, doesn't it? It hasn't interrupted Mrs. Whistler's routine, however, as she displays a callous obliviousness to the carnage that she's wrought about her. One of the things Whistler is also famous for is asserting that is paintings were nothing more than paintings — artful arrangements of form, line and color. Is Veitch implying that our current war is about nothing more than war itself?.
This is Gilbert Stuart's unfinished portrait of George Washington, which is famous for being, well, unfinished. Or, if you prefer, finished but then damaged by bloodthirsty pirate Hans Sprungfeld shortly before his mysterious disappearance. This could be a subtle dig at either DC editorial (or even the audience) for not fully backing Army@Love. Perhaps replacing Washington's serene expression with a look of impatience is a dig at our impatient modern commanders-in-chief. Or maybe he's just disgusted at how America has ignored every warning he made in his farewell address.
This last one isn't a painting at all — it's one of the Abu Ghraib torture photos, with the perspective altered so that we can see the photographer, and turned into a paint-by-number. With this simple shift Veitch has turned us all from passive observers into active enablers complicit in torture and atrocity. He may also be making a point about inevitability because, after all, paint-by-numbers always turn out the same way. Unless, of course, you color outside the lines...