Beyond the battlefield: Scugog artist debuts paintings to showcase long-lasting impact of war

An artist from Scugog, Ont., has brought back to life some of the country’s most well-known First World War veterans by debuting dozens of paintings in an effort to showcase how “horrible” war can be before and after battle.

As part of the Scugog Memorial Library’s new “100 Years of WWI” exhibit, Tyler Briley painted portraits of many of those who served as a way to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Among those depicted in his work is Lt.-Col. Samuel Sharpe, who took his own life months after the battle of Passchendaele, where more than 16,000 Canadians were killed or wounded, including one of Sharpe’s closest friends.

Briley can relate to Sharpe’s experience, he says.

“I experienced the same thing — post-traumatic stress — through my job,” said Briley, who served as a firefighter in Scarborough for nearly two decades.

He suffered a career-ending shoulder injury on the job 18 years ago and says: “I didn’t realize until after I got injured that what I experienced was having a terrible effect on me.”

“We bring it home with us,” he adds.

His exhibit also features Lt.-Col. John McCrae, the author of the famous First World War poem In Flanders Fields, with one of the portraits depicting McCrae and his dog, Bonneau.

One of McCrae’s distant relatives, Robert, lives in Scugog, and when he laid eyes on this portrait, he decided to buy it from Briley.

“The likeness was so like pictures we’ve seen,” says McCrae, who is John’s second cousin, once removed.

These paintings are the first set Briley has ever created, but he has been sculpting for several years. This week, one of his other creations dedicated to those who fought in the First World War, a plaque featuring Sharpe, was debuted at Parliament.

Although Briley’s works depict people who have been gone for decades, he says his goal is to help keep their legacies alive.

“This is about coming, observing, respecting, remembering,” he said.

Briley’s exhibit runs until Nov. 23 at the Kent Farndale Art Gallery.

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