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Terrorized: In 'Black Iraq,' Barron Storey attempts to comprehend the death toll.

War Storey

San Jose artist Barron Storey draws on Goya to chart the horrors of 'Black Iraq'


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THERE IS just something about piles of dead bodies and the artists who paint them. Legendary illustrator Barron Storey decided he wanted to draw every person who had been killed in Iraq, although no one actually knows that number. Taking his inspiration from Francisco de Goya's Desastre de la Guerra (Disasters of War), Storey's Black Iraq solo exhibit at Anno Domini drew a few hundred folks when it opened on June 3. After all, Storey is one of the most influential illustrators in the biz. His work has graced the pages of Time magazine, National Geographic, Heavy Metal and countless others throughout the last few decades. Remember The Lord of the Flies paperback from the 1980s—the one with the green cover featuring the guy looking through the leaves? He drew that one.

Black Iraq, his brand-new series of dark mixed-media works, is premiering right here in San Jose and it ain't pretty, folks. The intense project originated with a series of Storey's mixed-media journals, more than 20 of which are available at Anno Domini for your entertainment perusing pleasure. It would take an entire weekend just to read all of them.

At the show itself, you feel like you're walking straight into one of these graphic journals, and the show functions sort of like an overall arc, beginning with a page titled Trial: Towards Abstract.

The paintings become gradually more and more abstract, with the final works showcasing how Storey eventually visualized dead bodies in just about everything. Of course, the only works in the show that haven't sold are the extremely abstract ones.

Framed as a series of nine "pages," the show is a departure for Storey, as he is usually a straight-up illustrator and not used to creating works with no exact focal point.

The whole shebang opens with mixed-media pieces on canvas featuring Susan Sontag quotes about how men are always the ones who start wars and not women. Then viewers are taken through the "pages"—sets of paintings with graphic depictions of war, violence and mass slaughter, juxtaposed with text.

You can't see the show without hearing a dark, foreboding soundtrack in your head. As Storey took me through the exhibit, he explained that the whole project was like meditation for him. He saw it "as prayer."

Which brings us to Page 7, titled Zealots. This set of paintings deconstructs the flag-waving, Bible-thumping Christian hysteria through perhaps the most vivid pieces in the show. A piece of text in one of the paintings reads, "Got my finger on the trigger,/ But I don't know who to trust,/ When I look into your eyes,/ There's just devils and dust." Storey says he is a Christian but not a church-goer. When it comes to the fundamentalist Christians and their agendas, he says he feels a "kind of spiritual anger about that."

Storey, who teaches an illustration class at San Jose State University, will carry on for quite a while about Goya, so it makes sense that he cited Disasters of War as an influence on Black Iraq. One would tread the same shark-infested waters when analyzing either sets of works.

As David Sylvester wrote in About Modern Art, "Goya seems to have come to take it for granted that a human being with power or authority over another will abuse it to ruin the other, to dismember, deprave, despoil, relentlessly, gratuitously. Maybe the scenes in The Disasters of War of the pointless butchery which the victors inflict on the vanquished tell us no more about Goya himself than that, like any humane and rational being, he loathed the excesses of war."

Storey is there, too, and when I ask him if he would put himself on the same stage as Goya, he says, "Would you?" All he's trying to do is provide an artistic way to emphasize the bloody slaughter that is being done in our name. Sometimes it just takes 10,000 dead bodies to drive home the point.

Black Iraq, works by Barron Storey, shows through July 21 at Anno Domini, 150 S. Montgomery St., Unit B, San Jose. Hours are Monday-Thursday, noon-5pm. (408.271.5152)

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From the June 29-July 5, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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