My latest work from Drawing II class dealt with the "Psychological Body" and "Urban Traces"—each requiring me to conduct extensive research on my subject matter. I chose to illustrate human beings for both assignments because I'm a firm believer that everybody has a unique story to tell.
For the Psychological Body project, our professor asked us to link a connection between the body and mind. We were also told to stretch beyond of our comfort zones and to explore mediums that we were unfamiliar with. I chose to paint with acrylic on canvas.
As a combat veteran myself, I know what it's like to live in a world where people simply "don't get it". I find it hard to storytell my wartime experiences to fellow classmates for the sheer fact that most are 7-10 years younger than me and are unfamiliar with the warrior culture. For this project, I elected to document the experiences of a local OEF/OIF veteran—how he or she copes with life after war and their adjustment into the civilian sector.
Through facebook, I came in contact with SSgt. John Garrigues, a Marine Reservist out of Kannapolis, NC. I spent my initial visit at his parent's house up the road in Salisbury, where we sat around bullshitting, drinking coffee and smoking cigars. John is a Washington Capitals fan with a penchant for good cigars. The first thirty minutes were consumed with getting to know one another.
As the converstion resumed, I did a couple sketches and snapped a few photos. John was a Combat Engineer attached to an infantry battalion during the second battle of Fallujah, or more famously known as Operation Phantom Fury, in 2004. He talked about the furocious street battles, the shrapnel he took from an enemy hand grenade, and the two friends that were killed in action. John keeps pictures of his lost comrads in his wallet, often reminding his three little girls of their sacrifices.
Having that veteran-on-veteran dialogue made it easier to share past experiences that would otherwise be deemed as taboo and foreign to the other 99%. Most college kids today are out of touch with the major battles that our G.I.s faught in throughout the last 12 years. The average 20 year old in my art department couldn't even tell you what Fallujah was. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I knew about Beruit, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, etc.
This divide in modern culture segregates our newest war veterans from the general population. I don't blame the kids, I blame the parents and their high school history teachers.
My latest assignment, Urban Traces, required us to venture into the city of Charlotte and to, well, trace something urban back to its origin. My intial plan was to document the homeless. However, after spending a few hours at the local soup kitchen, it dawned on me that those waiting in line were probably proud people who would detest the idea of having their picture taken. Unless I was willing to dedicate several months of my time building sincere relationships with these people (my project deadline was in 2 weeks), there was no way this was going to work.
I chose to "shoot from the hip" instead, walking through the city with my camera and sketchbook hoping to find somebody, something, anything interesting to record. I stumbled upon an elderly man named Sal, 64, who was sitting on a bench outside of a Starbucks at the intersection of Tryon and E. Trade.
Sal is short for something Italian, so says the bearded man reeking of alcohol. I asked Sal if he was a veteran, given that he was wearing old military trousers. He replied no and continued to stare off into space. After about 10 seconds, I asked if it was cool that I sit with him. He said yes and made room on the bench. About a minute later, we began to make small talk. My initial assessment of Sal was that he was homeless; however, there was more to the label than meets the eye.
Originally from Rochester, NY, the grungy looking man migrated to Charlotte 3 years ago after retiring as a film technician. Sal lost his wife from breast cancer 5 years ago and says he drinks to "get away from it all". Several times during our conversation, he would turn and look in all directions, then at me and announce how much he hates the homeless. I found this very ironic considering he fits the physical makeup of one.
We talked about sports, the war, his kids and grand kids, his love for wildlife and riding Harleys. I asked for his permission to photograph him, and he obliged. As he was polishing off the contents in his water bottle, I asked if he would like another water from my backpack. He leaned over and slurred, "This ain't water, if you know what I mean".
Two hours had past and I had to leave. I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and left. There are two urban traces: his story, and the story others generate upon first glance.