Howard Otchenash's Afghan war art tells personal stories

Kirk Starratt
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Artist Howard Otchenash of Kentville has created several acrylic images of war-torn Afghanistan. Each tells a sobering, thought-inspiring story of the harsh realities our servicemen and women overseas face on a daily basis.

BY KIRK STARRATT 

Kings County Advertiser/Register

He hopes, if nothing else, his work engages onlookers and provokes thought.

Artist Howard Otchenash of Kentville, a lieutenant colonel at Camp Aldershot, will soon complete his 38-year career in the regular and reserve forces. He plans to concentrate more on his artwork.

“I’m looking forward to it and, obviously, I have a hobby to do,” he says.

Otchenash has experienced many aspects of military life and has painted several moving images of our military personnel serving in Afghanistan. He sometimes sees photos as part of presentations or online that capture his interest - he can relate personally to the story being told, inspiring him to paint the scenes.

“I’m more interested in the stories they tell about my fellow soldiers. They’re stories people don’t see,” he says. “You’re a soldier, you’re out there by yourself. It’s you, your rifle and whatever is out there facing you.

“I was one of them and experienced it.”

One of his works, “Fortitude,” features a soldier beside a blown-up light armoured vehicle. People notice the destroyed light armoured vehicle, but Otchenash says the soldier has some choices to make: he might have lost a friend, but he has to get on with it.

“He’s saying, ‘We’re the next vehicle. We have to go around this and move on.’

“It strikes me in the heart. You have an incident, but you have to carry on. It’s the struggle, it’s the soldier’s life.”

Another, entitled “Elements,” Otchenash says has all the elements of trouble: a rolled-over army jeep, the flex hose for the gas can is lying on the ground - something no one would leave in the road. There is a pylon, part of a bicycle and a broken shovel.

“Resilience” features two soldiers in a sand storm on century duty. This image struck Otchenash because he used to perform combat service support: you fight your way out to support the troops, and then fight to get back.

“The front line is all around you,” he says.

For this painting, he thinned his acrylic paint and used an airbrush to achieve the fuzzy look of the sandstorm. Otchenash says a military person once stood in front of “Elements” and began to cry, telling him it represents such a compelling story. Otchenash believes the images he used as the basis for the paintings are of a battalion from Edmonton serving in Afghanistan in 2006.

"With each and every one, people stop." Kentville's Howard Otchenash

Although reactions to his works vary, people tend to like the colours. Otchenash learned to paint through “self-experimentation.” He uses acrylics, but has experimented with water-soluble oils. The paintings tend to take him between two and six months to complete. Otchenash uses computer technology to breakdown and analyze the colours in the photos he uses as guides, and sometimes adjusts colours during the painting process. Before painting a picture, he transfers it to canvass using pencil.

“It’s easy when your heart’s into it,” he says. “I want everything to be just so.”

He took up painting and sketching as a hobby while in Winnipeg in 1994, and says it has been rewarding. Otchenash credits his father, a schoolteacher, for his artistic ability. He used to try to reproduce pictures from his father’s sketchbook.

Otchenash says Ron Hayes in Canning, who does framing for him, has described the paintings as “modernistic.”

“You see navy and air force, but you don’t see many of these (army scenes) in modern,” he says.

There haven’t been many artists visit Afghanistan: Otchenash says he doesn’t know of any other army paintings of our service people there. Most of the military paintings he sees are from the First and Second world wars.

The people Otchenash paints are his inspiration. Many come back from war zones with experiences too big for anyone to fathom, and he hopes he captures some of that in his artwork.

“I think they tell a story,” he says of his paintings. “With each and every one, people stop. They stand there and look. To me, that’s great.”

Otchenash says painting is his hobby: it has never been his intent to make money off of it. However, if anyone is interested in purchasing one of his paintings or having prints of his work produced, he says it would be an honour. He can be contacted at otch@ns.sympatico.ca or (902)678-5225.

kstarratt@kentvilleadvertiser.ca

 

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Edmonton, Winnipeg

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Recent comments

  • JOEY NIVEN
    December 31, 2010 - 06:31

    Absolutely awesome work! The kind of art that comes from living life.

  • Pauline Otchenash
    July 06, 2010 - 17:14

    As proud as a Mother can be that is what I am unconditional love. Mum

  • Jerry Aglago
    July 06, 2010 - 16:51

    You are such a wonderful officer sir.

  • Sanjit Shrestha
    July 06, 2010 - 01:02

    I loved your article as well as the painting sir.

  • Brian Russell
    July 05, 2010 - 23:49

    Very proud of you, you are a painter of remarkable ability and feeling, showing exactly what our military go thru when in war zones.

  • Sadie
    July 04, 2010 - 14:04

    THAT'S MY DAD :D:D:D!!! I love him so much!! As I was growing up, he made all kinds of things!! He widdled wood, he made Pinatas for my birthday sometimes, he showed us all kinds of things he learned from the Army. Like how to catch food and what plants and roots to eat. He's awesome :) He took us camping, fishing and canoeing :) always had a blast being with my Father :D. He'd always be doing something around the house or thinking of something to create to improve the house or just be a great Father :) hugs. I love you Dad!! I'm super proud of you and out of this world happy and excite for you :D Love you always. Sadie :D

    • Brian Russell
      July 05, 2010 - 23:36

      I am very proud of you, ever since I first met you 8 years ago. You put your feelings into your paintings, in particular the ones referred to in the article. You are a soldier.

    • Brian Russell
      July 05, 2010 - 23:37

      I am very proud of you, ever since I first met you 8 years ago. You put your feelings into your paintings, in particular the ones referred to in the article. You are a soldier.