Portrait of a War Artist: A young doctor’s Vietnam wartime experience in words and pictures

John Gillies



In this captivating and beautifully illustrated memoir, John Gillies vividly recalls his months as a member of the Otago University Medical Company on an active service tour of duty in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Still a medical student at the time, his youthful admiration of New Zealand war artists from previous conflicts adds a poignant layer to his narrative, told in brief, evocative chapters that offer tantalising glimpses of the variety of humanity he encountered during his time in Vietnam.

Gillies, a lifelong artist and now retired physician, might well be called New Zealand’s first people’s war artist as he takes us behind the scenes and records the people and places that captured his imagination when not tending to the wounded. No combat here, no battle scenes from him … instead, beautiful portraits, bewitching sketches and enduring memories of a time and place where ordinary lives were so violently disrupted.

From crazy escapades to sobering moments, Gillies reflects on the dual nature of his experiences, making Portrait of a War Artist a compelling memoir that delves into the complexities of war, the transformative power of art, and the enduring resilience of the human spirit in the face of challenge.

Look Inside:
Click HERE to sample some pages.

About the Author

During his time at the Otago University Medical School, John Gillies was conscripted for National Military Service and served in the Combined Services Medical Company in South Vietnam between 1969 and 1970. During his tour of duty and in his spare time, John painted portraits of Vietnamese civilians and military personnel, some of whom were patients in the hospitals in which he worked.

During his long medical career, John maintained an active art interest, exhibiting regularly since the late 70s. In 1989 he established the New Zealand Association of Artist Doctors with the aim of fostering creative activities among doctors.

His first book, In My Chair, featured sixty-four portraits of Cantabrians, while his most recent, Skippers Canyon (published in 2023), is a beautiful collection of paintings and sketches interspersed with personal and historical notes that mark John’s frequent journeys to this remarkable part of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Click HERE to sample some pages.

Look Inside

Click HERE to sample some pages.



Author: John Gillies

Pages: 104

Binding: Hardcovers with ribbon

Dimensions: 210mm x 250mm

Published: April 2024


Extract in Canvas Magazine, NZ Herald – Saturday 30 March 2024.