What is mankind's obsession with war? The children who stand cheering and waving their flags as the trumpets blare and the victorious soldiers march down the street will play war games and cowboys and Indians with each other until, one day, they become soldiers themselves and discover that it's not victory but death they will almost certainly meet on the battlefield. War isn’t an event that should be revered and celebrated and yet, when the surviving soldiers-who-used-to-be-children return home and march victoriously through the streets with a new generation of youngsters cheering them and waving their flags, the whole cycle is doomed to repeat itself again. And on, and on, probably until the end of time and there is nobody left to kill.
Si Lewen was an artist before he went to war, and when he returned broken and disillusioned from WW2, he created a series of drawings about mankind's perpetual lust for battle and its ensuing horrors that were published under the title ‘Si Lewen’s Parade’. In a masterful and deeply moving piece of visual storytelling, his pictures form a running narrative that fluctuates from the light of childish innocence to the moment Death lures those young men onto the battlefield and transforms them into nameless cannon fodder, to the suffering of the Prisoners of War behind the wire fences, to severed heads, to the wounded struggling beneath the weight of the dead, little more than corpses themselves. It is a wordless epic that strikes hard at the viewer's heart, and some of the blackest images are a nightmarish rorschach test that will chill you while forcing you to look harder, daring you to try and make intellectual sense of what it is you are seeing. First published in 1957, and acclaimed as an important humanitarian artwork by Albert Einstein, Si Lewen's Parade is as relevant now as it has always been. In fact, Lewen's incredibly affecting, almost cinematic "free-jazz dirge of a book" as editor Art Spiegelman describes it in his introduction, is probably more important than ever.
This new edition of Si Lewen's Parade: An Artist's Odyssey, is a piece of art in itself. When the young Si Lewen experienced his very first art gallery, he was bewitched by the pictures on the wall but saddened because they were spaced so far apart from each other. Lewen always believed that pictures should be arranged side-by-side or back to back, so that they can talk with each other, and that is exactly what this gorgeous collection accomplishes. Published in an accordion format, Si Lewen's Parade is published back to back (literally) with An Artist's Odyssey, a handsomely compiled celebration of Lewen's life and work. This has to be one of 2016’s publishing highlights and it is only fitting that Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus: A Survivor's Tale, should be the curator and editor of this wonderful and incredibly emotional volume.
SI LEWEN’S PARADE: AN ARTIST’S ODYSSEY / AUTHOR: SI LEWEN / EDITOR: ART SPIEGELMAN / PUBLISHER: ABRAMS BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW