Smithsonian takes a shine to National Post editor Richard Johnson’s raw images of life in war zones
This past week, Richard Johnson donated 20 of his illustrations to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, in the hope his artwork can continue to tell the stories of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq for generations to come.
The 45-year-old says his initial desire to head out into the field was born more out of frustration than anything else. “I find it at times personally very frustrating how little attention is paid to certain aspects of stories and for me the artwork is a way of making people pay attention to something they would normally not read,” he says.
With the long operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson says readers were growing numb to the “sanitized” images they saw of burnt-out cars. “Nobody wants to be traumatized by seeing too many dead bodies,” he says.
Instead, Johnson’s images capture the everyday reality of life on the ground through a more “raw,” artistic approach, according to Jennifer Locke Jones, chair and curator of the Smithsonian’s division of armed forces. “He never goes back to it, or fill it in, and do the ‘prettying up’ that other artists do,” Jones says. Instead, she says, Johnson draws in the field, sparking an “immediacy and freshness” that traditional war illustrations lack.