Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Painting Hiroshima, by Ron Cole

He said he wanted to see the destruction of the city; the shock wave moving out from ground zero, with buildings and homes in front of it and pulverized ruins behind. Seriously? I thought to myself, How can I undertake this commission? 

I'm not overly sensitive regarding violence and I'm not partisan nor political about my art, but I've always seen my art as a celebration on some level. When I do paint war - and lets face it, I end up painting war a lot in my genre' - I avoid the most potentially disturbing moments and try to focus more upon the machines and the men; a mood and a nostalgia. Many veterans over the years have remarked that they like my work for that very reason. In the past I enjoyed the support of many World War II veterans who chose to autograph my work after they'd rejected offers from other artist to do the same for them. I've always felt that painting for these men, as their generation passes away, keeps their spirits alive for ensuing generations. That's celebratory.  

When Japanese billionaire industrialist Nobuo Harada's representative first approached me about the project, I was rather shocked. It was my second commissioned piece for him, and ultimately his museum in Tokyo. When Nobuo-san directly told me what he wanted to see, the challenge of it was enough to plague me. There was no way to celebrate that moment. A person can be abstract about it and think of it as an end to an even more brutal war; it ultimately saved millions of lives and so on. But a painting is a still snapshot that doesn't reveal context like that. I'd have to paint the deaths of 100,000 people and have it say something at face value.

Harada was very specific regarding the composition. I didn't have much to say about it. The focus was to be the mushroom cloud with the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, as a secondary element. Right away I searched to see how other artists had depicted it in history. Short answer: with subtlety or outright omission. Some artists only depicted the aircraft. Others painted a mushroom cloud in the far distance, the city tactfully obscured by overcast. One painter created two versions of the same painting, one with the mushroom cloud and one without. Clever. Options that I did not have. At least I knew I wasn't alone in my conflict regarding the subject. Then I made a choice that I felt, once I'd made it, was the only thing that should be done: 

Reveal the horror. Let that stand on its own. Don't even try to gloss it over. Doing so would be the greatest injustice. 

The base of the mushroom cloud - the city of Hiroshima - is in full view as Nobuo-san specified. After having read everything I could find on the behavior of the bomb as it detonated and impacted the surrounding area, I wasn't able to both depict the cloud and the shock waves (there were two: one from the blast and the other from the wave hitting the ground and bouncing back). I rendered the smoke and fire at the base of the cloud with a specific word in mind: Sickly. The color of the cloud briefly went through a 'reddish' phase as it rose into the air. Combining that with the yellow-orange from the fires created that 'look'. And it is scientifically accurate. The crew of the Enola Gay described the low smoke over the city as 'bubbling', which I've portrayed here as well. 

Nothing celebratory in any of it - but that's the entire point. 

Nobuo Harada was very pleased with the piece, and it is currently on display alongside the previous works I've created for him. Hundreds of Japanese see it every day. I don't know what their reactions are to it, but I think that I did the subject fair justice. No politics. Just . . . it. 

I don't advertise this painting in any of my stores (it's available only by special order). 

I do invite my readers to visit my web store, however. I have over 150 other compositions available:


- Ron Cole


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