There is an old cliché, “”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”" This is especially true with art because it determines what a person surrounds himself with and enjoys every day on his walls.
However, with aviation art, what one person likes is not necessarily the artistic style that appeals to another. So I’m not surprised when one customer prefers the works of a certain artist over another and then find my next customer enthralled by the artist previously rejected.
One aspect of aviation art that has been popular in recent years has been the setting.
Landscapes and spectacular skyscapes add to the story being told, as well as enhance the image.
So is simplicity — that is, just an aircraft with no discernible background — out of style? Not necessarily.
Take, for example, Dominic DeNardo’s “”No Quarry Today”" – winner of two national competitions. DeNardo’s rendering of these two famous “”B”" model Mustangs is superbly done. The coloring in the plain background enhances the lighting on the two aircraft as well as makes them stand out.
But is there a story in this picture? Here’s what the artist has to say: “”Capt. Don Gentile and Lt. John Godfrey are depicted on March 16, 1944, during their target support mission to the outskirts of Munich. Assigned to B Flight in the 4th Fighter Group’s 336th Fighter Squadron, Gentile and Godfrey would become the 8th Air Force’s most celebrated fighter element by virtue of their mutually supportive tactics. Heralded by the Air Force as the top leader/wingman duo in the European Theater of Operations — Winston Churchill referred to them as the “”Damon and Pythias of the 20th Century”" — the two would combine to shoot down 16 enemy aircraft between March 8-29, 1944, including six on one mission!”"
On this particular mission, Gentile, flying his P-51B “”Shangri-la”" VF-T was forced to return to his home base at Debden due to engine troubles while his wingman Godfrey went on to shoot down an Me-110. Their squadron commander, Maj. James Goodson, who led the mission, got two Me-110s. Gentile racked up 10 more victories in the days to follow, including three FW-190s on April 8, bringing his score to 21.833 aerial and six ground victories. Within days of that mission he returned to the U.S. on leave.
On June 20 Goodson got hit by flak and spent the rest of the war as a POW. By that time Goodson had 14 aerial and 15 ground victories to his credit. Two months later Gentile’s wingman, Godfrey, also was hit by enemy flak northeast of Nordhausen and became a POW on Aug. 24. Gentile died in a flying accident in 1951 and Godfrey died in 1958 from an illness. The artist worked with Goodson on this painting and he signed copies of DeNardo’s print “”No Quarry Today.”"
All three pilots wrote books about their experiences and others have written about them. The book “”Two Man Air Force: Don Gentile and John Godfrey: World War II Flying Aces,”" by Phillip Kaplan is currently available, and DeNardo’s image “”No Quarry Today”" is part of the dust jacket collage.
DeNardo, an American Society of Aviation Artists Fellow, has received numerous awards for his art work including the Par Excellence Award from the EAA Aviation Art Competition 2001 and the Artflight 2003 Award from the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa. In addition, in 2004, his aviation art was among a selection of works exhibited at the U.S. Air Force Museum’s Hall of Honor in Dayton, Ohio.
DeNardo’s painting “”No Quarry Today”" won the 2005 “”Best of Show”" Award from SimuFlite/Flying Magazine “”Horizons of Flight”" competition in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the 2002 “”Best of Best”" Award for the Aviation Week & Space Technology Aerospace Art Competition in 2002 at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah.
This painting has quite a story to tell as a work of art, about the aircraft depicted, and about the pilots who flew them. As this image demonstrates, it doesn’t necessarily detract from a painting if the background is simplistic rather than having an awesome landscape or skyscape, as long as it tells a compelling story.
Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but real beauty is found by those who look beyond first impressions. What do you think? That’s what really matters.
Larry W. Bledsoe is an avid aviation historian and writer. He can be contacted at 909-986-1103