Monday, March 5, 2012

Nose Art

No it has nothing to do with rings or piercing no nothing like that at all. Nose Art is the forgotten, almost lost tradition of personalizing the war craft of flyers.

See I told you it didn’t involve anything getting punctured.

First you have to remember that it was only a brief window in time, those years between the beginning of World War II and the end of the Korean War. Sure flyers still personify their planes and men still sail in ships they call by women’s pronouns, but the glory days of Nose Art last less than a decade.

Okay, now for a lesson in telling time. Unlike the scholars and the scientists, we all know that decades do not break on the decimal system. We call them by their decimal enumerators, the Thirties, The Forties, The Fifties and the Sixties. But the truth is culture lags behind the calendar. The decade of the Forties really ran from 1936 through 1945. The Fifties ran from 1946 through 1955 get it? Or do you really think all that free loving, flower powering, drug-crazed, rock fueled sixties stuff started in 1960?

Come on, in 1960 the Kingston Trio and the Four Freshman still topped the charts, the Beatles were playing in Liverpool and Keith Richards still had all of his original blood.

So what we call the Forties are really The War Years and what we call the Fifties are really the Post-War Years plus Korea.

In those fleeting times when passion was hot, jazz was cool and planes were deadly, the Nose Art of the Great War Birds came into life, blazed against the horizon and then passed.

Most of the men who painted the art are long gone and the plane, those mechanical wonders are now scrap or in the hands of the few, who flew them, loved them, and can afford to keep them.

And that means if we don’t step up right now, that art, so vivid and wonderful and so amazing being the work of unpaid amateurs will be lost forever.

So, have you ever thought about it? Have you tried to include it in your own work? Have you looked it up at least?

This is a serious page devoted to the artists and heroes who fought the wars and painted that wonderful art. Have a look and see if you don’t get just a bit choked.

This site isn’t so serious, but it is full of the paintings which went to war and made the guys feel like they had more than just a machine under them.

Now take a minute and think about this art.

It was painted freehand, by men not professionally trained artists, using whatever materials were available in war time, painted on the side or the curved nose of a bomber or fighter aircraft, which might have had extreme damage to its skin and done in stolen moments between critical missions.

That any of it was good is a miracle, that most of it was excellent is inspirational.

This isn’t the boxy art of the still life where the artists can set up his little diorama and light it exactly as it needs to be to bring out all of the tones and make the shadows give three dimensions where there are only two. No this is guerilla art composed on the fly, done in snatches without good lighting or sleep or expensive paints or stretched canvas.

And it ain’t abstract art, where things do not have to be completely recognizable in the “real” world, this is art for the ordinary men, fighting and getting killed and not sleeping or eating or resting, things pretty much have to look right.

And what things are they supposed to look right at? Girls! That’s right, the bulk of Nose Art is pin up art and a guy who has been flying two missions a day for thirty days straight might not know a Klee from a Weyth, but he damn sure knows what a girl looks like.

The Memphis Belle, Betty Boop, Ill Wind and so many others, they were the girls they guys loved the best and took to war and counted on to get tem back in one piece.

The next time you sit staring at your canvas or paper or clay trying to wring an idea out of the ether, think about those guys in the air over Europe or Japan, Korea, South Viet Nam or The Gulf and maybe you’ll see an inspiration in satin floating on a cloud and wearing nothing but a smile and luck and you’ll know just what it was all about.

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