Words Out of War

Also see
The Arrogance of Power
Ken Sprague: People’s Artist
North London art exhibitions
Ken Sprague book covers


The following linocuts were part of Ken Sprague’s first folio in a series on the Vietnam War, printed in an edition of 40 copies in 1965, although some prints have certainly been lost. It is not known who wrote the text on the inside flap of the folder (54 x 35 cm), which was printed directly onto thick board, but it could have been his friend and collaborator, John Gorman of G & B Arts. In the second folio, printed the following year, John remarked,

The first folio has attracted attention from countries as far apart as Canada, Nigeria and Australia. They have been reproduced in many newspapers in this country, including The Observer, Sunday Times and Tribune.

Words that would, a few years ago, have moved us to tears or white-hot anger, today leave millions of us cold.

A town is destroyed. A forest set on fire. A child is gassed and vomits its heart out. A mother is torn apart by a thousand slithers of steel. Multiply it all by hundreds – but the facts are reported in less space than football results.

Before we can commit acts of brutality our minds must become attuned to them. The destruction of crops is reported in the same tone as the weather forecast.

In seizing, and illustrating, some of these words from the everyday press, the artist, Ken Sprague, forces us to face the new dangers. Not only what the war in Vietnam is doing to them – but also to us.

She’s a good airforce wife. she never asks about my job. US airman after Napalm raid, 45 x 29 cm, 1965.

For the wife of a soldier killed in battle there is only prostitution. South Vietnam general, 50 x 32 cm, 1965.

US refrigerators and air conditioners meant for hospitals end up in generals’ homes. Time Mag, 50 x 32 cm, 1965.

After a month here we should get a government loan of £3,000 to buy a house. Australian soldier in Vietnam, 45 x 31 cm, 1965.

Untitled. No. 7/40, 50 x 32 cm, 1965.

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