This past semester, my class of student veterans at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point joined forces with The Veteran Print Project and an advanced printmaking class at our university to produce fine art prints based on my students’ stories of military service, war, and coming home. I’ll be sharing pictures from the big reveal we had in May, as well as the artists’ statements and the work they produced.
I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that this was a tremendous opportunity for everyone to better connect, for my students to share their stories, and for the artists to create meaningful work on truly profound topics. Tolstoy said that the purpose of art was to provide a bridge of empathy between the artist and others. We took that concept one step further. By sharing their stories, my students connected with their artists, eliciting empathy and a better understanding. The artist then illustrated what they discovered for you, the viewer. The veteran then had the amazing opportunity to bear witness to their own stories and to see the ways in which their illustrated stories affected other viewers.
I hope that the work you see here will transform the way you think about war and veterans — I know it has for me.
Artist Statement, Brooke Newman:
I learned a few things from my vet. I think that what occurs to me most about our conversations though is how many “sides” there are to being a vet: how many different types of jobs there are, how many places they are stationed around the world, and all the different reasons they have to join the armed services.
Josh Thunder was stationed in Kuwait for a year on an Air Force base shared by many troops from all around the world. He said that he was amazed at how “ Westernized” the country was; there was a Hardees down the street from the base. He said, also, that it was the longest year of his life.
I got the impression that he was very disenchanted with the whole experience. He joined because his uncle had—and because he wanted the benefits of the G.I. Bill. He did not know battle in his service time and is grateful for this. But felt that his being there was a waste of money. He was trained in communication and specifically on a switchboard that is now obsolete. He spent long shifts in a room, in the desert, with this switchboard. Needless to say he had too much time to think about the lives being lost in a country nearby and about all the money being spent as well. He said that he does not regret his decision to join the Army but if given the chance, he would not do it again.
The print comes from his description of the creatures he caught on this base. Because of his boredom, he would sometimes catch and contain some of the “wildlife” around his building (wildlife not common in his home state of Wisconsin.) He would put these creatures into any container that he could find and observe them until the end of his shift. I related to this, as it seems like the type of thing that I would do. I oil paint animals mostly, so the idea of capturing an image of a lizard and a scorpion inspired me. He sent me a photo of a lizard that he had put inside of a water bottle. The water bottle had Arabic writing on it, which I thought would make a unique print, specific to his story. I carved two linoleum matrixes, one with the creatures and the other with the containers. I liked the idea of printing the creatures first and then laying the second matrix on top, similar, I felt, to trapping the creatures.
I named the print “Prisoners of War” because I felt that Josh had moments of feeling trapped in a situation that he didn’t like –and could not escape. The lizards, scorpions and other bugs experienced the same incarceration because of Josh’s post.
(Please know that I mean no disrespect to the men and women who actually are/have been prisoners of war.)