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How to Kill:

World War II Watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker

February 3, 2015 – March 8, 2015

Organized by the Arkansas Arts Center

During World War II, a young poet named Keith Douglas was wounded in action in Egypt. From his hospital bed he composed a group of war poems. He called the series How to Kill. Eventually, there would be seven poems, from Oxford on his student days to Simplify Me When I’m Dead on his premonitions of death. World War II did claim Douglas; he died in 1944 during the invasion of Normandy. His poems were largely forgotten until British poet laureate Ted Hughes edited a volume of Douglas’ work, saying the How to Kill series was “quite perfect in its way.” Artist Robert Andrew Parker thought so too.

Robert Andrew Parker began his series of watercolors based on Keith Douglas’ poems in 1970. These works, over 100 in all, are now part of the Arkansas Arts Center’s collection. This exhibition focuses on 25 of these images. His ideas are closely linked to written material. In this series, the Douglas poems serve as a launch for Parker’s particular aesthetic. His patches of pure color and a loose, expressionistic line recall the illustrations of children’s books for which he is well known. The simplicity of the images translates to these works a kind of wistfulness that contrasts with the stern themes of separation and distance. The watercolors, like the poems, begin with a look back to the quads and cricket fields of an aristocratic Eden, but with the off kilter gaze of an outsider. In the war images violence is stranded in vast landscapes, gun scopes isolate men out, and empty space surrounds post-battle debris. Death is the final coda on disconnection, the ultimate severance of man from the world. The effect is bleak but not cold. Parker’s color dims but is not harsh, his line wavers at its most agitated but never turns jagged. His refusal to grate has the effect of gentleness, a remembrance that is both tender and clear eyed.

Featured Works from the Exhibition









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