By Anne Duggan, Army Public Affairs
Montreal, Québec — Details are to military art what treads are to Leopard 2A4 tanks, according to military artist Sergeant (Retired) Roger Chabot.
Historic details are what he has sweated over for about 50 paintings to date. Sgt (Retd) Chabot spends an average of four to five months per painting, using at least a month for initial research. “My art is not just art, but also history,” he explained.
Sgt (Retd) Chabot has recently completed a commemoration of the Battle of Fiers-Courcelette, which he has donated to the museum of the Royal 22e Regiment, Citadelle de Québec. This battle, an important battle in the Somme Offensive of the First World War, marked the debut of the tank in warfare and was the first contribution of the Canadian Corps to the Battle of the Somme. Sgt (Retd) Chabot’s website is: http://rchabot.faso.com
“There are so many details with this kind of art and people will notice if I get something wrong.” Sgt (Retd) Chabot created a painting to mark the 100th anniversary of the Royal 22e Régiment (R22eR), in 2014. It depicts two Canadian soldiers in front of the Citadelle in Quebec City, one from 1914 presenting the regiment colours to the second soldier who is from 2014.
Both soldiers in the painting, which Sgt (Retd) Chabot named Un Passé Glorieux, are wearing a uniform from their era, accurate down to the puttees and body armour. Puttees are the long strips of cloth worn on the lower leg by Canadian soldiers in the First World War. The foreground differs on each side of the painting: a field of poppies or a bombed hinterland, depending on the era.
“This is probably the best painting that I ever did,” said Sgt (Retd) Chabot. The painting now hangs in the R22eRRegimental Sergeant Major’s meeting room at the Citadelle in Québec City.
Sgt (Retd) Chabot joined the infantry with the R22eR in 1984 and was posted to the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1985. Parachutes were a common theme in his early works, mostly due to his experience with the Airborne, and these paintings drew immediate interest among his coworkers. “Military members are passionate about their work. I could have painted anything and if I put a parachute on it, then it would sell,” he said of his early paintings.
While training with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in 1998, the focus of his hobby broadened after an injury sustained in a light armoured vehicle incident left him unable to perform physical activities for more than six months. More time to paint during his recovery, and a shift to a second trade as an Imagery Technician, had Sgt(Retd) Chabot leaving the parachutes behind in both his paintings and his work.
“The trade change from Infantry to Imagery Technician made me a better artist, in terms of lighting and composition,” said Sgt (Retd) Chabot who plans to retire soon, pursuing his art fulltime, hopefully particpating with the Canadian Forces Artists Program. In the years since 1998, the range of Chabot’s subject matter has ballooned and now includes portraits, Canadian Special Operations Regiment, Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Anzio.
Sgt (Retd) Chabot is very much part of his paintings, given his 32 years of military experience. He says that paintings are his way of dealing with the conflictive nature of his chosen profession, as he has trouble making peace with the warrior and artist parts of his life.
“There is something chivalrous about being a soldier but there is also the reality of the warrior. I have always had a hard time to make peace with these two sides of soldiering.” He finds comfort in the Samurai concept of warrior. These ancient cultured warriors of Japan devoted their life to the art of combat and were able to fuse the aggression of battle with the serene contemplation of Zen Buddhism.
Sgt (Retd) Chabot, currently the training and operations sergeant with the 2nd Canadian Division Support Group, was deployed internationally four times, to Cypress (1986-87), Somalia (1992-93), Croatia (1994) and Kosovo (1999), and twice domestically during the Manitoba floods of 1997 and the Québec ice storm of 1998.
He responded to his feelings of guilt when not chosen for deployment as a photographer in Afghanistan with a painting called The Valley of Shadows, undertaking countless hours of research and interviews to prepare for the creation of the painting, which commemorates his fallen comrades. The painting now hangs in the main office of the National Field of Honour, a cemetery for Canadian and Allied veterans in Pointe Claire, Québec.
“What makes my paintings special is my life experience. When I paint, I paint the emotion.”