Vietnam War experiences told through block print art at UOG | Guam News

Keith Gum, an ex-Guamian and U.S. Navy Officer, is showing his artwork at the University of Guam Isla Center for the Arts through Nov. 25,

Titled “3rd Platoon: A Corpsman’s Story of the Vietnam War,” his exhibition demonstrates his time on duty during the armed conflict using the art of block printing, a method of carving linoleum, rubber or wood, then printing on paper or cloth.

Gum used woodblock to create his work. He had learned how to use it in high school when he was only doing sculpture. Gum told The Guam Daily Post that he continued to use the medium as an UOG student soon afterwards.

“I graduated from this university, Japan, and the Japanese were the greatest printmakers. Gum said that she began looking at woodcuts in Japan… about once a week. “I was in printmaking when I returned to Guam with Professor Robert Sajnovsky. That’s what got you going.

His influences were Katsushika Hkusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. He also influenced Kitagawa Utamaro who is known for his Japanese woodblock printing.

Gum’s work reflects an experience he had while on duty. It exposes the raw, emotional, and eye-opening side to war.

Gum stated, “I think that a lot veterans look at movies, the media and they focus solely on heroic deeds, and the veterans who returned as decorated heroes.” I admire them. While I admire them, it doesn’t tell the entire story. We all came back with stories, and they are worth telling. If they only look at the few who returned as heroes, no one can understand war.

To avoid misinterpretation, his art is displayed at UOG’s Isla Centre of the Arts. Text beside each piece of art tells the story of what Gum experienced. Gum got emotional when asked if there was any painting that viewers should not miss. He suggested they go and examine the piece, “NVA Gunner”.

His artwork mainly consists of earth tone colors, such as greens, yellows, and browns. Common statement colors were red bloodstains, flames, or orange fireworks. Gum’s military gear made an appearance. Displays included Gum’s belt, boots, and personal photos.

Velma Yamashita was the coordinator at the Isla Center for the Arts, and an associate professor at UOG. She witnessed the impact the exhibition had on the public.

“Putting together an exhibit is one of my favorite things about my job. He sent the prints to the Philippines. Yamashita explained that I laid everything out like I was doing condition reviews. But seeing it in person, versus reading a book, is quite a different experience. This is one of the things we do. We display a wide range of artwork. This show should be open on Veterans Day to allow veterans to come and see it.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jerrold Dwayne Castro (Ret.) U.S. Marine Corps Master Guntery Sgt. Joe Vitt (Ret.) Joe Vitt (Ret.), made an appearance at the exhibition to see it. The realistic themes of war, sacrifice, and ex-military personnel moved them. 

“I’m actually a faculty member here at the art department and I’ve actually learned about this exhibit months ago,” said Castro. It’s something I have been looking forward too, simply because it’s close to my heart. It’s about the service members and what they experience in their service, combat or not. 

He also shared that, even though he was from the Army he felt like all service personnel were brothers and sister with the same experiences.

Vitt explained how important it was to share the unfiltered side in fighting for one’s nation with the public.

“I believe that news media, social media, and so forth, often times get the story wrong and it’s biased.” Vitt stated that when the story comes directly from the people who experienced it, it is their true feelings and experiences. This allows them to relate to other generations as well as allow them to exorcise demons by recalling rather than forgetting. 

Vitt spoke about Gum and said that he wanted to “just see what his experiences were, and how he was capable to capture those in art, as well the writing aspect, and what I can learn from that.”

Robert Sajnovsky was a former UOG professor who brought Gum’s art to the art gallery. He also supported the exhibit and revealed the early days of Gum. Sajnovsky was a UOG professor of painting, drawing, and printmaking. He witnessed Gum experiment with different art forms in the 1970s.

“He was always trying to do things. Sajnovsky explained that he was an abstract artist for a while. He is a great artist now. “I’m proud to have taken a little bit of his talent.” 

Keith Gum’s work, which Sajnovsky has been able to share since retirement for over 20 years, was able to express real emotions, according to Sajnovsky.

Keith’s art has two purposes. It’s decoration and expression. These things remind him of terrible things that have happened. Although there are many people making this kind of art, it doesn’t get enough publicity. It should.

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