MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Many people will never have the opportunity to experience war firsthand, but through the paintings and sketches of a Marine Corps illustrator, art can serve as eyes into the world of combat.
Cpl. Annette Kyriakides grew up in Wellsboro, Pa., and has always had an
interest in art. She began drawing as soon as she was able to hold a pen, she said. Her
family was very artistic, and they taught her to express herself through different artistic
mediums as a young child.
“I remember as a young child, instead of having my grandmother read me a book,
I would have her draw for me,” said Kyriakides. “By the time I was two or three years
old, I was on a way higher level artistically.”
After high school, she decided to serve her country, and joined the Army. After
serving a four-year term, she enlisted in the Marine Corps as a military policeman. During the first year of her contract, she was transferred into an administration job due to an injury.
While serving in her administration job as a lance corporal, a senior corporal from
her shop saw a piece of artwork that she was working on. The corporal was so impressed,
he told her about the combat illustrator military occupational specialty and recommended
she pursue it.
Within a few months, Kyriakides had submitted a portfolio, and was accepted to
the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., for the combat illustrator course.
Although photography is the most practical way to capture an image, combat
illustrators are able to bring their pen and paper, or just their memory, where cameras
aren’t able to go.
“Sometimes if there is a night mission, and the Marines have to practice light
discipline, you can’t have a camera flash going off out there,” said Kyriakides. “We can
take a pen and paper pretty much anywhere a camera can’t go. In the past, when a there
weren’t any cameras, this is how they preserved images.”
Also, during a court trial where photographers are prohibited, illustrators are
depended upon to capture images, she said.
Kyriakides was given the opportunity to test her skills in a combat environment
during a recent 210-day deployment to Iraq, during which she took thousands of photographs,
finished three oil-on-canvas paintings and completed hundreds of sketches.
Once her artwork is completed, it is submitted to Headquarters Marine Corps,
where it is kept at the Washington Navy Yard in the Marine Corps Museum.
There the art is preserved using a technique that will keep them fresh for the viewing public for years to come.
“I think what I learned in Iraq has improved me as an artist, as a noncommissioned officer and as a Marine,” she said. “It enhanced me as an artist especially, because I didn’t realize what I could do until I did it.”
Although Kyriakides acknowledged that combat could be a stressful situation for
many, she said she felt in her element as a combat illustrator.
“Art captures the emotion of each moment,” said Kyriakides. “Pictures tend to
focus on what is happening, but as an artist, I can capture emotions, and things that you
can’t see in a photo.”
Her deployment to Iraq also taught her to improvise in different situations.
Kyriakides recalled a time during the Abu Garib prison-scandal trials, where another
person mistakenly picked up her gear.
As a result, she had no art supplies to sketch scenes in the courtroom during the first few days of the trails. She was forced to use borrowed colored pencils, crayons and notebook paper.
“The artwork wasn’t on the level that I’d hoped it would be, but considering the circumstances, I was pretty pleased,” she said.
After her deployment, she requested to come to Yuma. Kyriakides has worked at the Combat Camera Center, formerly known as the Combat Visual Information Center, for a month.
Gunnery Sgt. Luis A. Palacios, station Combat Camera Center staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said he has worked with her in the past at Marine Corp Base Quantico, Va., where she lateral moved into the combat illustrator MOS.
“Her work ethic is awesome; she is an excellent Marine,” said Palacios. “If you give her a concept, she runs with it. She has excellent imagination and an endless reservoir of ideas.”
Palacios said before Kyriakides arrived in Yuma, her work preceded her.
“I was watching the Abu Garib trials on CNN once, and she was the only military artist that represented the military to draw sketches during the proceedings, he said. “When I saw that on CNN, I was really impressed.”
While stateside, Kyriakides works on art during her off time, and while working at the Combat Camera Center, she does computer-based graphic art.
Kyriakides reenlisted while she was in Iraq and she plans to make a career out of the Marine Corps. Along with her goal of becoming the most successful Marine as possible, Kyriakides also wants to return to Iraq.
Although she loves doing art in the Marine Corps, as she gains rank, she will eventually get promoted to a staff NCO, where she will supervise instead of do artwork, but she still plans to stay Marine.
“I’ve always love artwork, but artists come a dime a dozen. Not everyone gets to wear that eagle, globe and anchor,” she said.
“She is just starting. All she needs are the tools, and she will make an impact,” said Palacios. “She has only been here for a month, and already she has had her work displayed at the Yuma Art Center.”
Palacios said he only expects her career to grow from here.