Warrior Wire: The Art of War

0314PH_The Art of War


As a writer, I’ve always been incredibly jealous of people who are talented in the visual arts. That old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words? It’s totally true. Plus, people are more likely to stop for a few seconds to look at a photo or painting or drawing than they are to actually read a thousand-word article. This is especially true in my line of work, writing for a magazine known for its (NSFW) photos, which I’m sure garner a lot more looks than all the words I write on the pages between the photos. So, of course, after my article about veteran writers, it seemed only natural to follow it up with a story about veteran artists.

I don’t quite remember how I first learned about the Combat Paper Project, but I know that right after I heard about it, I couldn’t stop hearing about it. Several people I interviewed for my article on Warrior Writers mentioned it, and then it was mentioned again in the documentary Poster Girl (which you can watch on Netflix), and, in fact, there was a separate short documentary about the project, Iraq Paper Scissors, in the DVD bonus features of that film. Because, of course. It was clearly the universe’s way of telling me what I should write about next.

When I started reading up on the program and learning more about it, one of the first thoughts I had was, “This is f*ckin’ cool!” Because it is. But I also noticed that a lot of the names mentioned in other articles about Combat Paper were familiar to me from reading about veteran activists over the years. So I was doubly excited to get to work on the story. I’d get to pick the brains of talented artists, and talk to people whom I’d been reading about for the past couple of years.

A lot of the talk about the Combat Paper Project was about the cathartic aspect of it, and how it helps people heal. But what I thought was especially awesome about it was how it was producing unique works of art. While some of the men and women who participate do so for more emotional reasons, the fact is, a lot of the participants are incredibly talented artists, which I think gets overlooked a lot. Most stories about veterans’ groups like this one get bogged down by talk of PTSD and military sexual trauma and all the other things that go wrong that make people turn to art to heal. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Art is healing, both for the artist and, at times, for the viewer. But that’s not the whole story.

One of the artists I interviewed, Eli Wright, who helps lead the Combat Paper workshops at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, told me that he wondered if people would have considered him an artist if he weren’t a veteran. He’s also not sure he really considers himself an artist because that’s not how he makes his living. The work he’s most known for is a piece called “Open Wound,” which can easily be seen as a statement about his post-war feelings, and he says that more subtle pieces don’t get the kind of attention “Open Wound” does, even though some of them may be better. Then there’s Jesse Albrecht, who has no trouble calling himself an artist. He has his MFA, shows his work frequently in workshop and gallery settings, and has taught art at the college level. His work with Combat Paper is more about the art than anything else.

The cathartic aspects of art shouldn’t be entirely ignored, however. Drew Matott, who helped start the Combat Paper Project, started the Peace Paper Project not too long ago, which focuses on helping people heal from traumatic events through art. Veteran artist Jon Turner, who also worked with Combat Paper for several years, helps teach the Peace Paper veterans’ workshops. The focus there is more on the healing aspects of the artistic process, though they certainly produce some beautiful art, too.

Whether you prefer to look at the created pieces as art or as a means of finding peace, it’s worth checking out the art and artists who make up the Combat Paper Project. You can see more of their art here and here, and you can find out their workshop schedules here and here. And you can check out the Peace Paper Project here. And, of course, you can read my article about the Combat Paper Project, which appeared in the March 2014 issue of Penthouse, by clicking right over here.

X-Rated Art

Artists are some of the most entertaining interview subjects because like writers—like me—they’re out of their minds. When I was interviewing Kelly.X, she worried that her randomness and crazy tangents would be a problem for me, but I assured her that they would likely only make my job easier. I never write in order, after all. I’ll hear a really good line, or a phrase I want to use, and once I’ve found that, I just write around it. That’s how Kelly paints, too. She paints the faces first, because she wants to see the girls’ personalities, and then she moves on to the rest of the painting.

The only downside to interviewing artists is that it makes me incredibly jealous. I don’t have any talent when it comes to the visual arts. Words I can do, but pictures? Not so much. Of course, most of my artist friends feel the same way about me, and they all wish they were better writers. Huh.

To read my interview with pin-up artist Kelly.X, which ran in the September 2012 issue of Penthouse, click the link below. To see the painting Kelly did of Pet of the Year Runner-Up Emily Addison, you’ll have to visit Kelly’s website.

Kelly Futerer spent more than ten years traveling the world, working as a fashion model for some of the top designers before she started her second career as Kelly.X, a pinup artist who shines the spotlight on other beautiful women. Now Futerer is one of a handful of talented artists bringing pinup art back into vogue, with sold-out gallery showcases and sexy women hoping to be immortalized on her canvas.

Her work is reminiscent of original pinup masters Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren, but with a modern twist all her own. “The girls in Vargas and Elvgren paintings just speak to you. They jump off the page and they have personalities,” Futerer says. “So when I started painting, I decided to paint my own versions of what I would want a pinup girl to look like today.”

The women in Futerer’s paintings wear leather and latex—if they wear anything at all—and they frequently get caught with their hands down their pants, not something you’d see in the forties and fifties. Futerer’s models even flip you off once in a while. But no matter how rough, tough, or risqué her muses may ap­-pear, each of the women she cap­tures with her oils and watercolors exudes the lighthearted eroticism that you’d expect from a cheesecake model.

Futerer started painting pinups seven years ago, and with more than a few models’ names in her Rolodex, it wasn’t hard to find inspiration. She wanted to show her friends’ personalities, which is unwelcome in the fashion world. But it’s what good pinup art is all about. “When we were models, we weren’t really allowed to have personalities,” she says. “We were just there to sell clothing—look pretty and be a hanger.

“In fashion, you’d be asked to make a certain face or do a pose, and a lot of girls wouldn’t do it because they were afraid it would make them look ugly,” she continues. “But pinup models, those girls don’t give a shit. They’ll try it all. It’s a different breed of model.”

Women who pose for her, Futerer explains, aren’t simply catalog pages come to life. They range from five foot two to five foot ten and can be stick-thin or curvy and voluptuous. While all the women she’s featured are stunning in their own way, it’s not a particular body type or bra size that makes them stand out. “Every girl who I paint, even if she’s just sitting there, you can see personality in her eyes,” Futerer says. “It’s not that the girls are zany or crazy, but they exude sexuality and have a lack of inhibition.”

One of her favorite models is her close friend Samantha Phillips, our June 1993 Pet of the Month, who’s one of Futerer’s biggest fans. “Her work has a cool insight to it,” Phillips says. “You get a sense of the person from her work instead of just seeing a really beautiful picture of a pretty girl. Her paintings let you feel a connection with the model. It feels as if it’s a 3-D image and you’re a part of it.”

And being part of a Kelly.X work is exactly what women want. Futerer also fields requests from women who want to star in their own pinup fantasies. Ladies across the country have commissioned paintings of themselves in classic pinup poses—and even completely nude—usually as gifts for their boyfriends or husbands. “People are more in touch with their sexuality today,” Futerer says. “You used to only see pinups hung in hot-rod shops, but these days people aren’t afraid to display them as major pieces of art in their homes.”

Considering that a painting typically takes 150 to 280 hours to complete, you might expect Futerer to limit how many projects she takes on. But when we suggested one of our own lovely ladies, 2012 Pet of the Year Runner-Up Emily Addison, Futerer was delighted, despite being in the midst of finishing work on a book and two calendars. The buxom Pet’s delicate curves and expressive features had already earned her a spot on the artist’s wish list. “She’s like a gazelle, so very graceful,” Futerer says. “The way she walks, the way she holds her fingers. Everything about Emily is perfect, especially in this photo!

“I work with the nicest, coolest peo­ple,” she adds. “My job does not suck.”