Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

War is Heck

Not on view



Lithograph, photolithograph and collage

Sheet: 58 9/16 × 57 5/8in. (148.7 × 146.4 cm)

Accession number

1/10 | 4 TPs, BAT

Printed and published by P.R.I.N.T. Press

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf and Hinrich Peiper

Rights and reproductions
Courtesy the artist and the Garth Greenan Gallery, New York


War is Heck, a lithograph, contains a medley of imagery and sources that reflects the cross-cultural experiences of its maker. Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s paintings and prints fuse the aesthetic of traditional Native American art with the fractured forms of modern European and American artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and Robert Rauschenberg. Here, for example, an outline of a horse—a frequent subject of Smith’s, and one that alludes to her background—dominates, but images of a soldier, an American flag, and a newspaper headline about war expand the work’s referential scope. Smith’s technique reinforces her theme: the multilayered process of chine-collé functions as an allegory for the convergence of different cultures.

Visual Description

War is Heckis a lithograph and photolithograph collage. The dimensions are nearly a square, about 58 inches high by 57 inches wide. The background is predominantly light beige and the most prominent image is a side profile view of a horse facing the left. It takes up most of the canvas, reaching close to the edges. It is drawn with a thick sketchy and painterly black outline. Shading and details are minimal except for straight angular lines across the horse’s body and neck. Behind and surrounding the horse is a “collage of converging cultures”, drawing on imagery from Indigenous, Mexican, and Colonial American visual cultures. A wash of blue drips from the top to bottom of the canvas layering beneath the horse’s body and above several faded details like bison printed postage stamps, a horizontal drawing of a pipe with a long handle, and bingo sheets.

Right below the tip of the horse’s back right hoof is a small image of a Mexican lotería card, El Soldado, depicting a soldier standing up straight holding a gun. The same lotería card is printed larger on the top left of the canvas by the horse’s head. Printed small beneath the horse’s snout is the text “The Stone Age, Up Close and Personal”. To the right is the newspaper headline “WAR IS HECK” printed large in all caps, overlapped by the horse’s chest. On the left edge of the canvas is a wash of red dripping down to the bottom of the canvas. Its streaks overlap a silhouette of cow imagery, which repeats in other parts of the painting, and a small lotería card, La Mano, which depicts a hand, palm facing towards us. The top right of the canvas has a small grid of four American flags directly above the lotería card, El Pajaro, depicting a bird perched on a branch.

The artist has long spoken out against the violence of war, but in 2002, when she made this work, she was responding to the imminent invasion of Iraq by the United States. She said in a later interview: “You know I always think this work is going to be obsolete. And then next year comes and things get worse, or another war starts, so this work stays ever present.”