Book Review: The Art of War

This handsomely produced little book (paintings, text and publishing by Geoff Butler) bears on its cover a colour reproduction of a painting that illustrates a chapter named ‘Follow me: I’m behind you all the way.’ The painting, rendered in the incongruously softly glowing colours characterizing Geoff Butler’s work, shows a stiffly goose-stepping crowd including children, elderly women, agricultural workers, armed thugs, soldiers, and a wealthy-looking elderly gent in morning coat, striped pants, carrying a briefcase (a diplomat?). There is even a one-legged man on crutches. This group is led by a white duck clad in red military regalia. Its title is ‘Following the quacks.’

This sets a keynote for the book. It is a fairly unsubtle, but bitingly satirical review of images of war in all its most absurd and vainglorious, mindlessly slaughterous and vilely hypocritical moods.

Geoff Butler mordantly explores all the classic absurdist themes of wars and warmongers ‘For God’s sake,’ war as business, provocation and counter-provocation). He touches on many of, and here and there explores, the deepest moral themes — repugnance, regret, greed, power — that underlie modern warfare. And his message and warning are clear.

If I have any fault to find with his book it is that it is too beautiful! Butler is a fine draftsman and a subtle colourist. As I write I am looking at page 37 of his book. The painting reproduced there is called ‘If you want peace prepare for war’, reduced to fit a small page from an original of 122 × 92 cm in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The painting features a forest of huge missiles rising above, and from among, pigmy houses and people. The colour key is low, sombre, but the missiles glow with rich hues that range the spectrum. It is a beautfiul image that catches you almost napping before you acknowledge that it is an image of ultimate earthly evil.

Alan H. Weatherley