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The Mission

The Mission

The painting

As a dark counterpart to my very up-beat ‘Jubilee’ painting I wanted to create a darker more moody image that would in an inverted way echo it and also have a similar visceral impact. ‘The Mission’ directly connects to my main aim as an artist, to generate feelings in the viewer. I am not an intellectual artist, my own ‘mission’ is communicate with anyone who sees my work on an emotional level first and foremost. I do this through design and ‘old-fashioned’ painterly skills - I do not like the modern trend in artists who almost always see themselves as thinkers and philosophers and who neglect the training and patience necessary to create works of art as objects of desire and works of craft and instead concentrate on ideas – often half-baked and expressed shoddily and without respect to either the buyer or to posterity.

In this painting I have gone back to basics. The composition (or design) of the painting is elemental, simple and bold, and owes much to the great artists of the past, from Gauguin to the Ancient Egyptians. I like and prefer symmetry; many of my best paintings have a central theme or motif that dominates or anchors the composition, like an altar or a piece of architecture or, rather, I prefer to create symmetry then, with subtle and gentle changes and additions or subtractions, create interest by taking the eye across the canvas in little off-centre excursions, always returning to the central motif.

In addition to compositional impact, I have always been interested in colour and its effect on mood. Sunsets are intrinsically attractive because of their association with holidays, exotic places or the end of soupy films, but nature’s rich palette of colours is also a prelude to night, to darkness, and sometimes also to dark deeds. Irony and contrast are at the heart of the design of this image - for example the chosen viewpoint emphasises the dynamic pointing shape of the aircraft, implying movement and yet also appearing to be static; an eerie alien shape floating ominously above safe and calming horizontals. The juxtaposition of the forms and textures of nature with the brutal angularity of the aircraft are, at various levels, thought provoking.

Some of my paintings are, by their nature, very full of content and detail, their subject matter demands it, and yet with others, such as this one, the challenge is to pare everything back; ‘less is more’. This is a scary and exposed way to paint.

The history

On the night of the 16th January 1991 a ‘stealth fighter’ flown by Colonel Alton Whitley junior of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force slid over the Persian Gulf towards the narrow strip of coast belonging to Iraq. This was the opening night of the first Gulf War (‘Operation Desert Storm’). This aircraft was the first of several aircraft that bombed key targets disabling the command and control structure of Saddam Hussein’s military forces. Whitley’s specific mission was to destroy the Iraqi Air Force headquarters in Baghdad. This was murder to prevent murder in what was described as a “just war”.

The Lockheed F-117a Nighthawk, the so-called ‘stealth fighter’, was in fact a bomber that was specially designed to deliver precision guided bombs or missiles deep within enemy territory without being seen by radar. Now decommissioned, this aircraft was the silencer screwed to the muzzle of the gun that is the United States military machine; an assassin’s weapon used in the name of…us?

Leo Stevenson November 2009