He Cried the Whole Way Back by Mary King

Mary King’s “War Stories,” at Woman Made Gallery

“Were you scared? Were you homesick?” read lines scrawled along the bottom of Mary King’s drawing The Interview. “What did your mother say? What did your dad say?” The questioner is unnamed and so is the person who answers, “He went behind the depot and cried. I was his only son. He thought I would be killed.”

Memories of war, culled from interviews conducted here and in Nebraska, form the basis of King’s solo show “War Stories.” With naive imagery inspired by 1940s-era coloring books, King’s mixed-media pieces could easily slip into didacticism—and there’s a strong moral urge, I think, behind these creations. But King abstracts the material so that it becomes elegantly, affectingly ambiguous. In Bury Me Not, for instance, two emotionally unreadable faces are overlapped with representations of frontiers old and new: silhouettes of gun-toting soldiers, a gushing oil derrick, a man on horseback, a banjo-playing cowboy.

Other pieces are simpler. The Homecoming depicts two reunited lovers, one a serviceman, embracing under a black cloud amid black raindrops. And then there’s Iraqis and the Convoy, one of the most clarion pieces of the show. In it, silhouettes of soldiers approach the foreground out of a vivid orange-yellow haze; a legend over their heads reads, in block type, DO NOT STOP.