‘Child’s Skull’ Painting on War Experience in Prominent NYC Exhibition - Humboldt State Now

‘Child’s Skull’ Painting on War Experience in Prominent NYC Exhibition

Marie Campfield’s recent painting, “Child’s Skull, Kandahar Province,” is part of the prestigious Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Exhibition at the Museum of American Illustration in New York City in May. Campfield is the first Humboldt State student to have work accepted in the competition.

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Marie Campfield, HSU Art student

Outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, bomb squad technician Marie Campfield (who went by Martinson at the time) saw a child’s skull. It lay in grass, in plain view, just off a dirt road where she and other Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians had stopped to check for explosives.

Campfield, an HSU Art major, recalls that day in 2011 when her team leader found the remains. “We couldn’t do anything about it. We were there to look for hidden bombs and we couldn’t pick it up. Can you imagine that happening here and not being able to call anyone?”

The skull is now the focus of Campfield’s recent painting called “Child’s Skull, Kandahar Province.” It was accepted into the prestigious Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Exhibition and will be featured with other entries at the Museum of American Illustration in New York City in May. Campfield is the first Humboldt State student to have work accepted in the competition.

She is also the recipient of the Albert and Mildred Van Duzer Scholarship, Glen Berry Painting Award, Ingrid Nickelsen Trust Award for Outstanding Woman Artist, and Reese Bullen Award.

Originally from Vancouver, Wash., Campfield had been studying at Brigham Young University-Idaho, when she craved adventure. She joined the Air Force as an EOD technician in 2007 and was deployed twice to Afghanistan (from 2009 to 2011). She came to HSU as a Wildlife major in 2014.

But what she really wanted to do was paint. Campfield had been drawing with pencil and pen for years and decided she needed to learn a new medium. She switched majors and under the guidance of Art professors Brandice Guerra, Gina Tuzzi, and Teresa Stanley, Campfield thrived.

“As in the military, everything was a team effort. The Art faculty guided me in the creation of really meaningful pieces, helped me apply for scholarships, wrote letters of recommendations, and gave fantastic advice and insight about becoming a professional artist,” says Campfield.

The result is a body of work that captures moments that are disturbing, quiet, and serene. Here is her art, in her own words.

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Child’s Skull, Kandahar Province, Size: 48” x 36”, Medium: acrylic, grass, tissue, mod podge on canvas

Title: Child’s Skull, Kandahar Province
Size: 48” x 36”
Medium: acrylic, grass, tissue, mod podge on canvas
Class: Intermediate Painting with Gina Tuzzi, Fall 2015

I wanted the focus to be just the skull. It’s very macabre and dark so the background needed to be black. I still don’t know how to feel about the skull or how to express it with words, which is why I paint.

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Free Bird, Size: 36” x 48”, Medium: oil on canvas

Title: Free Bird
Size: 36” x 48”
Medium: oil on canvas
Class: Intermediate Painting with Gina Tuzzi, Fall 2015

The prompt for this was “song.” I used “Free Bird,” which summed up my first deployment in 2009 because it was madness. A lot of soldiers got killed that summer.

This image describes the Wild West craziness of Afghanistan. But it’s not just about the bad parts. It shows the excitement and success of blowing up and disposing of explosives—kind of like that rock star feeling at the end of “Free Bird” during the guitar solo. This is one of the explosions that my team set off. Those were the best, most satisfying parts of my deployments. It’s what I was out there to do.

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Untitled, Size: 54” x 48”, Medium: acrylic on canvas

Title: Untitled
Size: 54” x 48”
Medium: acrylic on canvas
Class: Advanced Painting with Teresa Stanley, Spring 2016

The prompt was “public space-private space.” To me the most private space is inside the bomb suit. Your field of vision is very limited, you’re wearing 80 pounds of gear, you can barely move, your ears are covered and there’s this little fan that’s running to prevent your mask from fogging up. That fan humming is just about all you can hear. It’s very closed in.

The hands aren’t doing anything specific, just working with some wire. The image got cluttered and confusing when I tried to show more happening than that.
The facial expression I was going for wasn’t panic. EOD techs are highly trained professionals. Each IED (improvised explosive device) is different and they’re all puzzles and we’re just solving puzzles with a time limit and a lot at stake. I just wanted to look calm and focused.

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Self-Portrait, Size: 36” x 48”, Medium: oil on canvas

Title: Self-Portrait
Size: 36” x 48”
Medium: oil on canvas
Class: Intermediate Painting with Gina Tuzzi, Fall 2015

This represents a moment in July 2011. I’m reflecting on the day. We’ve done a lot of work and I’m taking a break, relaxing. The rifle on the right is mine, and the two on the left belong to my teammates. The shadows represent two EOD techs in our unit who were killed that summer. My watch shows the date they died.

Inside the backpack is the robot I carried around on missions when we were on foot. I wanted the robot there so people can see that it’s a woman in combat, that I’m not safe on a base.

The helmet, gloves and rifle are purple—my favorite color. And I used a lot of purple for the robot. It’s a very pink and purple image overall. I made it sunset time and colors on purpose. I’m telling it like it is, but also trying to make it look pretty.