Journeys in my head: an artist’s record of the cost of service
Warning: This article contains confronting images of physical scarring and mental suffering.
Once seen, this powerful depiction of a veteran’s suffering postwar is hard to forget. One of the most confronting works in the Australian War Memorial’s art collection, Journeys in my head is Trevor Lyons’ record of the scars, seen and unseen, of his ADF service. Born in Brisbane in 1945, Lyons volunteered for National Service in 1965 and served in the Vietnam War as a second lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. His war service ended when he was wounded by a Claymore land mine. He required major reconstructive surgery for facial wounds.
His series Journeys in my head starts with a self-portrait depicting his scarred face and through 22 prints he flays his skin to reveal the damage to mind and body alike. Etching proved the perfect medium for this work, creating a visceral impact through the tones and marks of the printed surface. Usually, an artist creates an etching plate and prints a number of works that are exactly the same, but the plate can also be re-worked, and printed from at each stage, to create a number of ‘states’ using the same plate.
Understanding the process required to make this artwork deepens our understanding of how Lyons was prepared to confront and reveal his traumatic experiences. An etching is made with a metal plate covered in an acid-resistant coating. The artist incises or scratches the coating so that when the plate is submerged in acid, the exposed parts are eaten away. The coating is then removed, and the ‘etched’ parts of the plate are used for printing. Here, Lyons printed a state and then returned to the plate – his own self portrait – and used acid washes and other techniques to create increasingly dense, almost violent, images that represent his experience post-service. It is a powerful revelation of one’s soldier’s life postwar.
Trevor Lyons, Journeys in my head: 1st – 22nd states, 1987
(etching, aquatint on paper, plate 34.6 x 30 cm (irreg.); sheet size varies, ART45085-45106)
The series was completed in 1987, as part of Lyons’ study at the Queensland College of Art. Lyons died from leukaemia in 1990, only three years after making these prints. In courageously sharing his own suffering, he created a record of the experiences of what too many have had to endure alone.
The Australian War Memorial has commissioned a work of art to recognise and commemorate the suffering caused by war and military service. The sculptural installation, For Every Drop Shed in Anguish, by artist Alex Seton, will provide a place in the Memorial’s Sculpture Garden for visitors to grieve, to reflect on service experiences, and to remember the long-term cost of war and service. A field of sculpted Australian pearl marble droplets, it will be made by the artist over the next two years and installed in the Sculpture Garden in 2023. For more information about the Sufferings of War and Service sculpture, visit here.