Diana Krall fans might breathe a sigh of relief. U.S. Marines in Iraq play and sing plenty of music in George Gittoes' documentary Soundtrack to War (2004)from gore metal to gospel, thrash to rapbut the Canadian songbird's contemporary jazz is not included. "We support you, Diana," says one soldier in the film. "We just can't listen to you when we roll." It's one telling moment in a movie filled with them. Another is the scene where a gospel choir in U.S. Army fatigues breaks off its outdoor rehearsal because of enemy fire: "That's the real soundtrack to war," says one soldier. Of all films made thus far about the Iraqi war, Soundtrack seems to make the most sense because it doesn't look to score any political points. "It's not really a documentary," the filmmaker explains to an interviewee at one point. "It's more like a musical." In the art world, definitions can be crucial. And for much of his near-40-year career, George Gittoes has been tagged a war artist, a definition which is both true and false. While the 57-year-old Australian has covered many of the world's hot-button conflicts since Vietnam, he hasn't always been invited, and unlike most official war artists, he hasn't confined his medium to paint and pencil. Famously, he was one of the few to witness the Kibeho massacre in Rwanda, camera in hand, and more recently Gittoes has turned to music video and anime to capture the emotions he feels. "I hate war," he says. "I'm married, have a lovely wife and two kids, and I'm someone who loves classical music, poetry and literature ... If humanity's going to go on doing war, then there has to be evidence somewhere that someone felt something." But in a world increasingly immune to the horrors of war, how to engage audiences without turning them off? With Soundtrack and its 2006 sequel, Rampage, which follows a rapping Marine home to Miami and the hip-hop studios of New York City, Gittoes cracked the creative jackpot, with films that could just as easily play on VH1 as in the current documentary-obsessed contemporary art world. (Three years on, curators can't get enough of Soundtrack, which, from March 9, screens as part of the third Auckland Triennial, called "Turbulence.") Gittoes' use of popular culture to explore the Iraq war "is a really amazing way in," says Russell Storer of Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art. "And I think that tells us so much more than the news about what's actually going on and how people feel." These films are also giving new audiences access to the wider world of this maverick. The loudest soundtrack to Gittoes' current life is provided by the white cockatoos outside his coastal studio at Bundeena, in a national park just south of Sydney. Here his drawing deskpart of an old cabinet propped up on bricksseems as improvised as his career. The son of an administrator and a ceramicist, Gittoes dropped out of law studies and, inspired by the visiting modernist art critic Clement Greenberg, traveled to New York in 1968. He studied with the social-realist painter Joe Delaney, and on returning to Sydney the following year, sought to put Delaney's civic-minded ideals to work in the Yellow House, the now legendary artist-run space Gittoes helped establish in 1970 with Martin Sharp. He would leave after two years, but the Yellow House set the scene for his art. Using any medium at his disposal, and world events as his palette, Gittoes' work speaks of the cosmic interconnectedness of things. But underlying a sometimes unwieldy body of work that includes his expressionistic paintings of steelworkers and, most recently, Saddam Hussein, has been his eloquent draftsmanship. From early sketches of train commuters in Kogarah to his first diary accounts of soldiers while making a film in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution, Gittoes has been interested in rendering the forces of industry and war. "I understand soldiers," he says. And his understanding has come about as much through pen, pencil and brush, as his new show of drawings at Sydney's Australian Galleries makes startlingly clear. Of his four trips to Baghdad, no event confounded Gittoes as much as the 2004 abduction of Irish-born CARE International worker Margaret Hassan. "She was a very smart woman, but she was also a lady in the old-fashioned sense," he recalls. "So that you'd arrive and she'd have a cup of tea for you in a beautiful porcelain cup." There is nothing beautiful about his portrayal of Hassan's hooded fate, Executed, 2004, with its horrific abstraction of beseeching hands and horned feet. But then, Gittoes suggests, war can't be reduced to a single image or soundbite; it is, by its very nature, cacophonous and senseless. In the past few months, Gittoes' drawings have portrayed a less particular and more generalized kind of horror. His Exhausted Still Walking, 2006, gives the impression of war as a spiraling, replicating beast. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gittoes has been meeting with Korean animators to help turn his diaries into a graphic novel and feature film. The artist sees this as all part of a larger multimedia project, to be called Night Vision. It was while traveling with a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia 14 years ago that Gittoes tried on his first pair of night-vision gogglescomplaining in his diary that "they turn the night into a greenish monochrome where people appear like moving negative filmit resembles early fuzzy television." Now, through his spiky but humane art, Gittoes allows us to see more clearly through the darkness.