The killing of Osama bin Laden has revived the old debate about whether or not torture works. The painting above is for a recent article in The Washington Post titled "Torture-lite:It's wrong, and it might work", which goes into detail about the thinking that went into implementing these techniques soon after 9/11.
With a decade of wars and the killing of Bin Laden, I thought I'd take this moment to look back and show some of the work I've done over these years. I visit schools often but don't see much politically oriented work being created by the students. I'm sometimes asked by students how my work developed, or how I got into doing this kind of work.I’ve met a couple of foreign students who have told me that their interest in politics or displays of their ethnicity is discouraged, that they are often encouraged to pursue a more commercial or decorative direction in their work.I found this to be odd advice so I thought some of this might help others that may be trying to find a direction.
My interest in politics started early. I was always interested in following current events and was into subjects like European history in high school. Since my family was affected by dictatorship, Communism, etc., I think I was trying to make sense of all of that at an early age. While in high school, I was looking for college scholarships and found one sponsored by TIME magazine. I applied, which basically consisted of illustrating a hypothetical TIME cover, and won the competition, which gave me some money for college. Along with the scholarship, I got a free subscription to TIME and started getting the magazine every week. My parents didn't subscribe to any news or English language magazines at our house so this was a big deal for me. I just started reading more and more about current events and became very interested in the artwork that showed up in the magazine.
At my college library, I came across another magazine called The Progressive, which was art directed by Patrick J.B. Flynn.All of the work in The Progressive was very inspiring.I ended up sending copies of my drawings to Patrick and he gave me one of my first assignments while I was still in college.I studied abroad for a summer and traveled around Europe for the first time.My interest in history, politics, and current events continued.I kept sketchbooks on my travels and some of those drawings became part of my portfolio.When I was looking for a design job, I ended up getting in touch with Steve Conley, an art director at TIME magazine.I showed him my drawings and design work, and began working there as a designer.Over the years, some of the art directors on the TIME staff began giving me illustration assignments and this kind of work developed further.
An unexpected result of all of this was that I began to get book cover and film poster assignments for stories that dealt with the intersection of religion, war, immigration and other cultural issues.
My first portrait of Osama Bin Laden was around 1998 for TIME's Spotlight page, which was being art directed by Ken Smith. This was sometime after the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden's name had come up as a possible suspect in the bombings, though people were not very aware of him at the time. There wasn't even much photo reference on him so I had to make up a lot of his features. As a result of being a suspect in the bombings, Bin Laden was thrown out of Sudan, where he had lived for a few years. He left Sudan and sought refuge in Afghanistan with the Taliban.
During the weeks after 9/11, attention shifted to Afghanistan. The U.S. was trying to negotiate with the Taliban into turning over Bin Laden. No one was clear on who the leader of the Taliban was, and rumors of a blind fighter started to circulate toward the end of the week. This was Mullah Muhammad Omar and I was asked to turn around another spotlight for TIME overnight. There were no photographs of him at all, so I had to make him up based on a very rough description of what he might look like.
After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban went into hiding and bombings became the norm in Kabul. This was for an Op-Ed in The New York Times
In the Spring of 2004, TIME published a Special Issue, a listing of the world's most influential people at that time. This was my second Bin Laden portrait, published in that issue.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda, under the leadership of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, began a series of bombing campaigns, kidnappings and beheadings throughout the country. This portrait of Zarqawi was also published in TIME's special issue.
A spread for Foreign Policy magazine
Cover for TIME from 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq.
A cover for The New Republic, after the capture of Saddam Hussein
Al Qaeda in Iraq, for Foreign Policy magazine
Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Shia Mahdi army that fought against the Americans in Iraq, for Foreign Policy magazine
In 2006, Abu-Musab al Zarqawi was killed in Iraq. I had an idea of doing a portrait of him out of sand, sort of blowing away or disappearing. I worked with sand over a piece of paper under a camera setup in one of the photo studios at the magazine. We photographed it and put a cover together. This was unpublished, the magazine ended up going with Tim O'Brien's cover of the "X" over Zarqawi's portrait.
The treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo for the Harvard Law Bulletin
Torture memos and finding an exit strategy for articles in The New York Times
Newsweek cover, after the death of Osama Bin Laden
for The New York Times, the day after the death of Bin Laden