• Refugees

    George Butler: Refugees. On Wednesday (08.08.2012) this was not an uncommon sight, three in the front six in the back as Syrian civilians cross the border, either fleeing the shelling or because their homes no longer exist. Bearing in mind leaving your home and country would be an absolute last resort – a few smiled and looked at the drawings. 

Illustration

Poignant, powerful documenting of the crisis in Syria by illustrator George Butler

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Earlier this year Lawrence Zeegen wrote a tremendous broadside for Creative Review calling on illustrators to rediscover their voice. “It’s all style over content, function following form,” he said. “Illustration has withdrawn from the big debates of our society to focus on the chit-chat and tittle-tattle of inner-sanctum nothingness.”

George Butler is certainly not a creative who could be lumped into Lawrence’s critique and is more than willing to to turn his reportage skills to difficult subject matter. He has just returned from a trip to Azaz in Syria where he immersed himself in the country’s ongoing, increasingly bitter battle to shape its future.

Azaz was, George explains, “a town that was coming back to life after a war had rolled through it, people coming back to their homes, finding their shops raided or shot and, of course, having to carry on with normal life.”

He set about capturing the reality of a situation that can fade into cliche through the combination of distance and repeated news coverage, through the people affected by these extraordinary events – soldiers, refugees, prisoners – rather than the events themselves.

  • Bakery-road-copy

    George Butler: Bakery Road. My understanding is there is not an extreme shortage of food here, nevertheless short enough to be only allowed three flat breads and short enough that two large queues form each day at the main bakery. In the background are the scenes of a battle from two weeks ago.

“People reacted well, it was very popular. Firstly because it was one of the ways the outside world would learn of their cause and secondly on a more personal level they were flattered and amused to be drawn.

“But it goes further than that. You are of course a guest of theirs and more than welcome to record anything and everything – their lives, as it were are open to you. I was invited into a hospital ward where, sadly, an old man who had just died from a shelling attack was being wrapped I felt like an intruder on a private moment.

“The next morning one of the Free Syrian Army soldiers decided I needed a shave and took me off on the back of his bike to the barber, no question of paying anything. That was all quite humbling, perhaps abnormal, when you can take a plane out of there the next day and be home to talk about the Olympics over a cuppa.”

  • Prisoners

    George Butler: Prisoners. Some everyday functions have to continue as normal in Azaz and keeping prisoners at the police station is one of them. They’re now held like everything by the Free Syrian Army. It was slightly disconcerting drawing humans though a large cage but they were friendly, or as friendly as they could be – one diligently lay there whilst I drew him.

The results are poignant, stark portrayals of a country violently convulsed by the promise of change, and George hopes they can add to the news footage and photojournalism that already exists.

“I certainly wasn’t trying to compete with the raw, quick, film and photography coming out of the more dangerous parts of Alepp – I don’t see how you could since the process involves sitting in front of your subject for 10, 15, 45 minutes and observing it.

“But on the flip side it is this process that has its advantages, it’s open and trusted, people often come and talk to you, it’s a great introduction into understanding the subject. 

“On top of all the photography taken you are free to interpret the scene by highlighting bits that are important to the story and equally leaving irrelevant information out, which of course you cant do with a camera.

“For situations like this the more mediums and medias recording and documenting the better.” 

  • Cjildren-on-tank

    George Butler: Children on Tank. Since I first arrived in Azaz when the town was relatively empty, people have been arriving back, either from the countryside or from Aleppo. I suppose with the same fascination that makes me draw the tanks and destruction, people wander around examining the damage, stand on tanks, take photographs and, with school now cancelled, the children play in and amongst the carnage. 

  • Scene-2

    George Butler: Scene 2. What you can’t see from this drawing is Ismail, a goat herder, wandering along behind and watering his goats at a nearby tap. In bizarre contrast to the line of shops leading the opposite direction – rearranged, permanently by the tank’s cannons. Occasionally a shop keeper will begin a bit of tidying up, a daunting task when the entire row needs rebuilding.

  • Omar-fsa

    George Butler: Omar. Omar is one of eight brothers, five of which are in the Free Syrian Army. He speaks English and Japanese and therefore adopts the role of translator, press man driver, etc…

  • Prisoner-azaz

    George Butler: Prisoner. Sign language could not relate what Khalid Salim had done to be ‘put inside’, although he was forthcoming in giving his name. I did note he had both legs in plaster, a casualty of war, perhaps.

  • Scene1

    George Butler: Scene 1. If you arrive form Kilis, Turkey this will be the third thing you see – the first is an abandoned tank, the second is a petrol station blown inside out, and this the third, around the corner from the bakery and in the shadow of the mosque tanks lie half buried. Children rotate the turret of one of them. An older kid sits in the bottom of one picking out the bolts for later use. It becomes all the more real when you stand on a pile of bullet casings in the knowledge that someone was here being shot at, shooting back. Who knows what happened after that but this scene is the eventual result. 

  • Soldier

    George Butler: Soldier

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

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