Germany-based MP's paintings of his time deployed to war zone are on exhibit in Hanau

Colleagues of U.S. Army Spc. Mark Duran, left, survey an exhibition of his paintings of Afghanistan in downtown Hanau, Germany. Pictured with Duran, from left, are: Spc. Josiah May, Sgt. Larry Parker and his wife, Jessi, and Spc. Joshua Turner.


By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2006

HANAU, Germany — Mark Duran is a military policeman who uses a “nightstick” with a lot of bristle to it.

A year removed from Afghanistan, the Army specialist takes a swipe with the thing every chance he gets, though it’s more about releasing than seizing.

“We’re not just soldiers who fight every day,” the 34-year-old says. “We have other parts of our lives that we want to fulfill.”

Duran, who is from Albuquerque, N.M., gets his fulfillment at night standing before an easel with his paints and oils and bringing life to canvas. He’s become so accomplished that his oil paintings are now on exhibit in Germany.

Beginning this week, two dozen of Duran’s best works from Afghanistan went on display at the Kathinka-Platzhoff-Stiftung in the Niederländische Kirche (Netherlands Church) in downtown Hanau. The exhibit runs through Feb. 2, though it’ll be temporarily closed for the holidays between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1.

“When you are downrange,” Duran said Tuesday at the exhibition, “soldiers are bringing out their guitars and harmonicas. For me, it was paints and brushes.”

Duran had the brush of his life in September 2005, when a suicide bomber attacked the policeman-painter’s vehicle in Gereshk in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

A member of the 92nd Military Police Company, Duran was riding in the turret at the time of the assault. The force of the blast knocked Duran unconscious and he was evacuated to the U.S. military hospital in Kandahar where he spent a week recuperating. He later received a Purple Heart for head injuries — concussion and inner ear damage — that plague him to this day.

“It was miserable,” Duran said of his hospital stay. “I wanted to be back with my guys.”

Duran did return and completed his tour, which lasted from April 2005 to February 2006.

On Tuesday, three of Duran’s “guys” — Sgt. Larry Parker, Spc. Joshua Turner and Spc. Josiah May — came to the exhibit to check it out and lend their support. Each spoke of how Duran would always see things in the landscape, whether it be mud huts or mountains, that other people wouldn’t, at least not on first glance.

“Everybody has a way to escape being there,” Turner said. “His way was just more artistic.”

May recalled how their initial flight into Afghanistan had to be diverted due to an in-flight emergency. For a while, the cabin lost pressure and oxygen masks dropped before their faces.

“I was uneasy,” May said. “I don’t like red lights coming on. Mark was just calm and reserved, trying to look out the window at the scenery below.”

The display in Hanau is a colorful mix of small and large paintings that give visitors a broad-brush glimpse of life in Afghanistan. Many of the paintings accentuate the landscape, which can be barren in a beautiful way.

Duran has about a year left in his second enlistment. His hope, either sooner or later, is to use his degrees in fine arts and education to teach.

Oil paintings by U.S. Army Spc. Mark Duran went on exhibit this week at a church and community center in downtown Hanau, Germany. Duran, of the 92nd Military Police Company, created the works while deployed to Afghanistan from April 2005 to February 2006. After a holiday break, the exhibit will reopen Jan. 2, 2007, and continue through Feb. 2.

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