Looking for Love II
JP Willis’s artists’ book reflects on US leaflet-drop and bombing campaigns in the American ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq. It forms part of a long-term body of work called Looking for Love, a series of artists’ books and prints on paper and glass that overlays familiar images of weapons of war with the apparent beauties of Nature. Brooding, uncompromising, masculine, the iconography is a reminder of our cultural fascination with violence as mediated through television, film and the visual arts, as well as reminding us of the real stories that make the news.
Willis’s Lockheed Martin’s F16 fighter planes are re-imagined as things of beauty, arrayed against the deep blue of a clear sky.
A multi-purpose fighter plane, the F-16 has various hardpoints for weapons payloads; it can also be fitted for leaflet ‘bombs’, as used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Propaganda leaflet drops have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. They warn the local population not to fire on US planes, and were used to alert them of Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons and his poisoning of water supplies during Iraqi military action against the Kurds.
It’s hard to know where to draw the line between fact and fiction in propaganda campaigns; Willis’s fighter planes spread the equivocal instruction, ‘Act like nothing’s wrong’.
The saturated pigments and slick screen-printed planes achieve the same aim: painting over what’s really going on, literally ‘making it look good’. The book’s concertina format unfolds to reveal all the planes at once: each the same, but different. Without the camouflage patterns and visible signifiers of one side or the other it’s hard to determine whose planes they are, whose ‘side’ they’re on.
This ambiguity reinforces themes that are central in Willis’s ongoing body of work, Looking for Love: beneath the surface are tensions and dichotomy, a ‘real’ meaning versus a ‘surface’ meaning. The threat implicit in weapons of war is disguised with sugar coating and candy colours: do you believe your eyes?
Self-contained, uncompromising and contemporary, Willis’s steady output has created a body of work laced through with the same dystopian themes: the nastiness of humanity, the inevitability of the cruel twist, and examining the world around him with a painter’s sensibility.