Airman Captures History One Brush Stroke at a Time

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.  -- Armed with his Nikon D90 camera, Warren Neary, Air Force Reservist, civilian and artist stands in 22-degree weather to capture and witness the history of President Barack Obama's inauguration. In a first for the Air Force Art Program in covering an inauguration, Neary was one of only three artists invited to capture the proceedings and create paintings for the Air Force Art Collection. That's just one example of the many opportunities Neary witnessed throughout his civilian, military and artist careers.

He's an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA Reservist) for the Air Force Space Command history office, as well as a career civilian for the Air Force Network Integration Center history office and one of approximately 200 civilian artists in the AF Artist Program.   Unbeknownst to most, Neary's experience and reputation speaks volumes. He's a sought after officer, dedicated civilian and a very accomplished artist, with works spanning from the Pentagon and AFNIC hallways, to local and national art galleries.   "It's the Total Force experience," said Neary. "I have had the opportunity to see the big-picture perspective of various missions and operations in multiple roles, as an active duty and Reserve public affairs officer, Reserve and civil servant historian, and artist in the Air Force Art Program. It's fascinating capturing our legacy in text and paint. Although there are vast differences in each of these professions, they are also similar in identifying and capturing the essential elements to effectively tell a part of the Air Force story."   It all started for Neary in high school, where he graduated as the Art Sterling Scholar, followed by a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree on a two-year art scholarship from Utah State University. Upon graduation, Neary accepted a commission as an officer in the Air Force, serving for eight years on active duty. He later finished a Master of Fine Arts degree to pursue a career as an artist and continue as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. His most recent civilian career started in 2011 when he became the AFNIC historian.  

Neary has 12 years of experience with the Air Force Art Program and has created 20 paintings in the Air Force Art collection representing subjects such as Air Force Space Command's response to Hurricane Katrina, satellite operations in support of the war fighter, the 50th Anniversary of ICBMs, Pacific Air Forces' Red Flag-Alaska Aggressor Mission, Air Force Special Operations Command's Air Commandos of the Pacific rescue mission of Occum's Razor crew members , and most recently the Air National Guard's airlift mission in support of the first lady of the United States.   Neary said the Air Force Art Program and Air Force History Program go hand-in hand.   "As historians, we are an organization's corporate memory, and we keep the official record with hundreds of supporting documents ... the Air Force legacy for those who follow," Neary said. "Air Force artists capture our operations with a visual language that can be immediately recognized and appreciated by those who have the opportunity to view these artworks on exhibition. My experience in each of these roles has facilitated me in the others, in covering and telling the Air force story."

After seeing missions first hand as an artist, Neary makes mental notes of the subjects, draws compositions and looks through supporting reference material in order to create a painting.

"It takes time to create a successful painting; representational subjects such as Airmen in action or fighter jet operations are easier to capture. Satellite operations are a bit tougher, and I personally find cyber even more challenging in telling the story visually. You can't reach out and touch it; you can't see cyber like you can see a satellite launch vehicle taking off. It is also very technical, complex and it touches almost everything we do," said Neary.

Once AF artist paintings are completed they are donated to the Air Force. The average time a painting takes ranges from a few hours to weeks or months, depending on the size and the complexity of the painting. The final outcome will be an oil painting that will showcase a mission for years to come.

In some cases, paintings are exhibited at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Air Force leadership will often host a ceremony to recognize and unveil the Air Force artists' collection.   No doubt, Neary is as scholarly today as he was when he graduated high school years ago. His continued talent, passion and experience for history and art are what drive his success one brush stroke at a time.

"It's truly a unique opportunity for the public to see these paintings depicting the contributions of our Airmen and Air Force operations around the world in serving our country," concluded Neary.

The Air Force Art Program was founded after World War II with 500 paintings from the Army, and continues a long tradition by documenting Air Force operations from the artist's perspective. The collection now contains over 10,000 artworks that hang in government buildings around the world showcasing the Air Force's proud legacy.

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