Comradery at 25,000 Feet

“Comradery at 25,000 Feet” (Normandy 1944) – Darryl Audette

Review by John Fraim

Hollywood has always presented the military aviation heroics of the two World Wars from the outside rather than the inside. By this I mean we have always seen great Technicolor battles in the sky in Panoramic Cinema: fighters chasing bombers and pure dog-fights involving entire squadrons of planes. We hardly ever are given scenes inside the planes locked in battle. Yet the real acts of heroism take place inside these battling planes rather than outside them.

But the popular images of aviation heroes in films always show the great battles in the sky from the outside rather than inside the planes. After all, it offered a much more visual scene on the screen for Hollywood: planes all over the big new screens in the theaters, the new technology of Cinemascope and large screens. They needed the expansion to show the entire sky the battles took place in.

Yet the true heroics of these battles were always inside of these planes. Many times, the pilot has been shot and the plane is going down. What is happening with the crew inside the plane?

The Canadian stage designer and Box dioramist Darryl Audette is one of the few creating modern Box diorama scenes inside these aerial machines of war. A different perspective from the popular media. But such a unique and brilliant perspective from the Canadian artist Darryl Audette.

He is one of the first important modern artists to provide this inner perspective on war, particularly, war in the skies by placing the viewer inside the battling airplanes. Many of his planes have been hit and are going down. The crew in the scene knows their fate. The viewer is placed next to these crewmembers inside the scene rather than outside of it.

* * *

It takes a number of things coming together at a certain time to create great art. One of these things is the perspective of the artist. It is the position that an artist looks at the world. True artists not only create unique works of art. They first of all, have unique perspectives for looking at the world. In many ways, the real progress in modern literature has been the progress of perspective towards viewing scenes of life. Perspective is the grand “elephant in the room” of influences over an artist. Like an environmental ecology, it is somewhat invisible to its inhabitants as they are always distracted by objects in the environment rather than the environment.

One of the key aspects of the incredible dioramas art of Darryl Audette is this perspective on a scene. When the world sees the scene from one angle, Darryl sees it from another angle. This is evident to anyone who explores his work on his Box Diorama site or his own personal website Darryl Audette. Perspectives explored involve a caretaker in the basement of a hotel; a woman at the top of some stairs, his brilliant “Sunrise in Salzburg.”

“Sunrise in Salzburg” (Mozart in the morning after composing all night) – Darryl Audette

The unique perspective is offered in his aviation dioramas: when the world sees battles from the outside, Darryl sees them from inside. This is evident in his three aviation dioramas. There is the WWI dogfight diorama called “Knights of the Air.” There is the WWII drama inside a two person cockpit called “Take That.” And, there is his “Comradery at 25,000 Feet” a hectic scene inside a bomber in trouble over Normandy in 1944.

“The Caretaker’s Suite and Boiler Room of a New York Hotel, 1950s” – Darryl Audette

Most modelers confine themselves to land or sea. The sky is not modeled much as it presents an entire new dimension to the scene. So, modeling dioramas of tanks crashing through towns or battle ships streaming somewhere compose the most modeled dioramas.

But Audette sees the sky as some living entity. It is not that clear blue sky of heroic war films but rather a dark, cloudy, smoke-filled sky. The skies outside the planes are given life with his experiments in using cotton and gauze as well as some of best use of colored LED lights in models today. Darryl goes far beyond the red and yellow colors of battle but brings in an entire rainbow of colors in “Comradery.”

Darryl gives a pretty good explanation of this powerful scene on the Box Diorama site.

“A while ago I was asked to contribute an art aviation piece to the Annual Auction of the Royal Aviation Museum, but at the time because of prior commitments and returning back to University, had to be put on the back burner for a bit.  Although I knew from the very beginning it had to be some form of homage to Larry Burrows and his iconic April 16, 1965 Life Magazine cover, ‘One Ride with Yankee Papa 13.’ Also, being destined for a museum, I decided to finally jump completely in and use LED’s to light the entire scene.  I’ve used them before here and there a little, but never to supply all the lighting.The project began with the classic Verlinden 120mm scale ‘B-17 Waist Gunner’ vignette model kit, and months of research, my favorite part.

Outside “Comradery at 25,000 Feet” Box Diorama (Like a set in a studio)

We’re used to seeing footage of the exterior of B-17’s and other airplanes in the thick of battle, but rarely do we see interior images of what the crew are going through, so that’s what I wanted to portray: the human condition.The concept formed to showing two B-17 waist gunners caught in full air combat, with one being wounded, caught by his comrade with a third lying wounded on the deck leading us into the scene.”

The great modeling guru Sheperd Paine would be proud of his young disciple Audette. Through “Comadery” and his brilliant other work, we get a unique perspective from this Canadian artist. It is the perspective of 25,000 feet above the earth rather than the back-and-forth bickering over smaller and smaller things each day in the news. Audette is not all that interested in the things that make small art today. Only in the things that make great art. One of these things is the heroism of those invisible persons in airplanes 25,000 feet above the earth. Or, in the basements of a hotel caretaker beneath the streets of New York.

* * *

As we suggested above, great art is perhaps connected to that relatively invisible thing called the artist’s perspective on life. This seems a reasonable observation.

There are those that get involved in the dailty battles of popular culture and put their emotions in the direction of a particular side.

But the true artists in our culture are not all that involved in this back-and-forth tennis match of popular culture. There are so many things that make the small, forgotten art of today while the great art of our time is created somewhere off center stage that few see. Not only is it created off center stage but it is also created from deep below and high above. This is the incredible spectrum that the Canadian artist Darryl Audette explores. Like no other artist today, he creates an incredible exploration of the inner depths of modern life in his brilliant “The Caretaker’s Suite” and “Comradery at 25,000.” Only a true artist is capable of exploring these depths and heights of human experience like Audette does.

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