Four Questions for Josef Kelly
"These pictures bore witness to suffering, hope, and sacrifice"
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
Josef Kelly is a professional artist based in the DC-area. He has recently become inspired by the stories of World War I, and started painting a series of pieces related to many themes found in the war. His work is remarkable, and it has earned him endorsement from the U.S World War I Centennial Commission, as a commemoration partner. We spoke with Josef recently about his work, about his inspirations, and about the series he is creating on World War I.
You are a visual artist with a unique WWI-themed style and topic-interest. Tell us about your work. What WWI-themed projects have you been working on?
The style of my work has been often been called “Impressionistic Realism” because it tends to take on a blend of the two genres. I LOVE the Impressionists - Monét, Van Gogh, Manet, etc. The time period of WWI came after the impressionist period. Yet, it seems to blend in with that era through the lens of time. I take my inspiration from the thousands of photos from WWI period. They convey drama, passion, grief and hope, victory and defeat, and countless story lines - both big and small. “On the Champagne Front” -- 16x20 acrylic on canvas
When one takes a look at the varied paintings that were created during WWI, there is a vast array of techniques, styles, genres. It was a time of rapid changes, and the art reﬂected that same pace. However one hundred years later, looking backwards and reﬂecting on this part of history and its stories, I think that my style of impressionistic realism seems to “ﬁt.” The impressionist style with its sense of vagueness, colors, and often purposeful lack of definition goes well with the distance of a century. While adding a dose of realism to these paintings I hope conveys the value of focus and intentional clarity to certain aspects that I, as the artist, choose through both my eyes, and the historians who help to clarify the important parts of that time.
I feel that I am only beginning my WWI series. My goal is to ﬁnish one piece per month between now and the the centennial of the war’s end on Nov. 11th, 2018. Depending upon feedback, interest and time, the volume of work may either grow or shrink.
You have mentioned that your inspiration is limitless, from the thousands and thousands of faded black & white images that have been left behind for us from the World War I conﬂict. How does your creative process work? Where do you ﬁnd your source material, how do you review it? What catches your eye, and why?
Wow, I love these questions! The thousands of images from the WWI era contain such a plethora of material for me as an artist. As one dives into the various story lines, the multitude of countries around the world who participated and sacrificed; men, women, children, old and young. As I search through the images I ﬁnd dramatic pictures ranging from battleﬁelds, factories, cavalry, tanks, ships, planes and artillery. Trenches... lots of trenches. These pictures bore witness to intense suffering, hope, and sacrifice and are worthy of recreating in a fresh medium to bring attention to some of the stories from that time.
Read more: Four Questions for Josef Kelly
American "Polonia's Army" fought for nation not on map in 1917
By Jan Lorys
via the Polish Museum of America
The enlistment of 30,000 men to fight for a country that had not been on the map of Europe for some 120 years did not resonate within the larger effort to raise the American Expeditionary Force that eventually grew to some 4.7 million men and some women. One of the first things I found when joining the Centennial Commission was that in 100 years little had changed. Sometimes the use of secondary sources can have a better impact than quoting dry primary sources, especially those written in another language. In order to “prove” the existence of the Polish Army in France, I found information in some unexpected sources.
Photo from Leslee’s The Illustrated Weekly Newspaper of December 8, 1917 in article Polish Army and its camp in Niagara, Ontario.Leslee’s The Illustrated Weekly Newspaper in its December 8, 1917 edition referenced the Polish Army and its camp in Niagara, Ontario. It states that “the men will be led by French officers, though they are to wear the British uniform. The various regiments are made up of Poles from Canada and the United States. A group is seen above beneath the flag of one of the Polish National Societies.”
There are a few mistakes. The enlistees were issued Canadian Army surplus and police uniforms, but it was always foreseen that they would be issued French uniforms with Polish distinctions. Based on some of the photographs in the PMA holdings, we can trace the “evolvement” of the Canadian and French supply systems. The early ones show some volunteers in Falcon field uniforms (US Army surplus) and others (like those pictured) in Canadian issue. After a few months, the officers are wearing French style uniforms, some produced in the USA. As the war progresses, recruits are given a mixture of Canadian and “Franco-Polish” uniforms, usually the four cornered caps.
While the senior officers in Europe were French, usually descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Polish troops or of exiles from the 1830/31 failed uprising, (who usually spoke little or no Polish) many of the Polish speaking junior officers were trained in Canada and had been active in the Falcon movement.
The Canadian government did not encourage its citizens to enlist in the Polish Army in France, since it would take away from the Canadian war effort. The bulk of the volunteers were from the US. The flag in the photo does not belong to a Polish National Society, it is a recruiting banner.
Read more: American Polonia's Army fought for nation not on map in 1917