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Veteran Voices: Painted Realities

Veteran Art Institute is proud to present:

VETERANS VOICES: PAINTED REALITIES

Painted Realities is an exhibit that was created during the height of the Covid – 19 lockdown by African American Veterans residing in San Francisco and Oakland, Rural Veterans in Eureka, CA., and deported veterans located in England, Mexico, Jamaica and Africa. The artwork was facilitated by the Veterans Alley Mural Project in San Francisco.

 

This exhibit was hosted at the Walt Disney Family Museum from
November 2020 – June 2021 in San Francisco, CA.

From the words of Navy Veteran Artist: Amos Gregory

Veterans Voices : Painted realities represents another milestone in the creation of public artwork that I have been doing with my fellow veterans for over 10 years. Together, we have painted our stories upon border fences, on walls of dark alleyways, upon city streets and walls of abandoned buildings in rural towns. This artwork allows us to send our messages of understanding, transformation and peace to the rest of society.

What is now displayed in this exhibit represents the hopes, dreams, challenges of three distinct group of veterans: Rural based Veterans living in the physical outer reaches of our country, African American veterans living in the concrete world of U.S. cities, and deported veterans living in far away lands and speaking foreign languages such as in Mexico, Jamaica, Kenya and England.

These communities of veterans, of which I am a member of one, each have their own unique stories and cultures but one key bond that they share with the rest of America’s 22 million other veterans is that of the lifelong challenge with adjustment and care after military service.

From deported veterans advocating for their right to return home, to rural veterans and their struggle to find community care along the unpaved roads of their towns to African American veterans who suffer from everyday systemic racism is where the uniqueness of each community is highlighted. 

What each community does share is the constant struggle for proper medical care, and having the experience military service constantly playing in our minds years after service.

Over the years of creating artwork with the community I have listened to stories of the Kosovo Genocide, artillery bombardments in Iraq, fire fights in Vietnam and so many others from the tents of homeless veterans, the homes of deported veterans living in Mexico to my very own stories which travel with me no matter where I go.

We all were American warriors, and as such, we will suffer the wounds caused by conflict in addition to the special circumstances we find ourselves in post-service.

We have learned to become the ultimate healers of ourselves. The work that we have been creating over the past 10 years is the culmination of a grassroots brainchild from within our own community. Designed by us for us. The rest of society also benefits for when we heal the society heals. We are your brothers, sisters, grandparents, the barber, the firefighter, the artist, the teacher. We represent all that America is… HOPE.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN VETERANS

“I feel like being a veteran is the greatest love letter you can give to your country.” 

Rebecca Browning, U.S. Army

Preston Walker

U.S. AIR FORCE
Oakland, CA

Bio: Preston Walker served as a United States Air Force chaplain during his service to our country. Mr. Preston is a homeless street chaplain who ministers and provides solace to his fellow citizens who find themselves unhoused. A tireless advocate and longtime unhoused resident of Oakland, Ca. Mr. Preston submitted his piece to represent and remind us of the thousands of unhoused veterans on our streets today.

Rebecca Browning

U.S. ARMY 
San Francisco, CA

Bio: I served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1989. I got out, just before the first Iraq war. I feel like being a veteran is like the greatest love letter you can give to your country is like, you know, I love you so much that I want to serve.

What does freedom mean to you? Being able to walk down the street without getting looks, without my son being able to go out, without getting looks, without being kind of denied. Just being able to move around like a human and not being seen as three-fifths of a human.

How can we do a better job supporting veterans? As a veteran you’re already dealing with battle trauma, psychological issues or whatever and there’s a lot of confusion. I got vocational rehabilitation so I can go to school and get my master’s. My rehab counselor…was dismissive. I enrolled in community college. Our system never told me how to do it, who’s going to pay for the books. I enrolled, but I didn’t have any communication from the worker. So I withdrew. Three months later, I get this notice from the VA. You were overpaid for something and need their money back. In the system you can see I returned the payments. But when you live paycheck to paycheck and they pull a big chunk out of your check, that hurts. I was unable to pay rent and bills. It took about a month for them to sort it out. This situation needs to be streamlined, parts don’t speak to each other. Veterans need help. Otherwise they get frustrated and give up.

Amos Gregory

U.S. NAVY    1988-1994
San Francisco, CA

What was your idea of the military and your life before service? I joined the Navy. I was on submarines on a fast attack submarine during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hunt for Red October…that was me. I was aware of the geo political stance at the time between capitalism and communism, and the United States versus the Soviet Union. I was at the tip of the spear during my service, I was a true believer—in the principles and ideas in our constitution, rights and freedoms, and of America being a liberating force throughout the world.

I served [in an] environment with many diverse people with so many different ideas. I was in the second wave of African- Americans on the submarine who were assuming more technical and leadership roles, which were previously excluded from us. We were serving in higher concentrated numbers in positions of authority and responsibility. On my first boat there was the old culture of people that were fading culturally and new folks challenging the status quo. It was stressful and you had to advocate without any tools. I didn’t have the time to regret any of our actions, and must say that we were the great terrifying boogey man of the Cold War…a nuclear armed submarine.

Later life when you see the effect of your geo-political stance you begin to look at it from outside of the woods, more holistically. You realize your role in conflict and the very nature of its roots, and you try your best to ensure that it never happens again. When you are a 21 year old and you are part of a crew that has nuclear weapons on board, you are constantly thinking, if you get this order, do I have the conscience to do some crazy shit like that, right? At that time of my life the the answer was yes. 

People who serve on submarines are highly valued by all types of different organizations because we’re smart, dedicated, and workaholics. I got out and got my college degree in 3 years. I had just done 6 years in the Navy and 3 years in college… I was 27 years old. I needed some freedom and some money! I would get some money but not much freedom. I would then go to work for 15 years in the high stress, and workaholic world of Silicon Valley, I never took a break… I never decompressed from being a submariner.

I was always depressed, and always working. I just dove into work and photography became my only escape. I worked hard and took my camera and learned how to become a great photographer and storyteller. I would photograph for over a decade before I would show any of my photography. I traveled and became a world class photo-journalist and fine art photographer as I worked my ass off in somebody’s else’s tech company. Like I said…workaholic. 

There are a million stories of how I collapsed, and what I faced but I would like to fill this space with the story of were I ended up.

After my collapse I ended up rolling into the Oakland VA distressed and not knowing everything that was inside of me. Long story short…I was introduced to a healing circle which was filled with African American Vietnam vets. They told stories of coming back home [from serving] to police brutality in Oakland, discrimination in the workforce, disenfranchisement, the Black Panthers and the civil rights movement. I could relate. 

Although we served during different eras, the stories they shared had a common thread of disappointment and frustration at knowing we were oppressed from fully exercising the rights we defended. Basically, we all had walked out of one hell and walked into another. They were the group of folks that began that particular healing process.

In 2010 I began the Homeless Veteran Nighttime Photography Project in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. I was using my camera to give homeless veterans a positive self- image via photography. I would ride my bike to the neighborhood, at night, and search for homeless veterans to photograph and begin to advocate for them to receive proper care. That’s how the friendships happened and the trust happened. I stopped being Amos, I became LowKeyRider1(LKR1), my artist name because I rode my bicycle at night, with my black hoodie, and my black backpack. People would see me rollin… LowKeyRider1. “Yo, LowKey, people from all over the world say to me now. Crazy shit… TRUTH. LowKey I B. 

Then I met Gabe while photographing, a USMC veteran and unhoused vet at the time. We began to photograph together every day. One night Gabe challenged me and said If I thought I was going to really do something for the neighborhood then I should do something for “Crack Alley”. I took the challenge and 6 months later Gabe and I created Veterans Alley, right in that very location. I began to learn to paint murals and one thing led to another and here we are almost a decade later with a wonderful project that benefits, veterans, non-veterans and is the pride of a neighborhood. I think we did a great job and look forward to the next 10 years of painting murals in Veterans Alley

Within a year of creating Veterans Alley I would write thirty plus names of deported veterans there to raise awareness of their plight. No one had ever written their names anywhere. Former Deported Veteran Hector Barajas calls me from Mexico and that’s how these friendships with deported vets happened.

Then I met Fabian, the co-founder of the deported veterans project. Fabian came back to LA after he got deported. He is a wonderful advocate for deported vets and wanted to start a veterans mural project in LA’s SkidRow. I met Fabian in Los Angeles and he showed me the buildings where we were going to paint. Three days later I got a phone call from him, and he explained been picked up by ICE and was back in Mexico. I told him, no matter where he was I would come and do artwork with you. That’s how the deported veterans mural project happened.

I went down to Tijuana, Mexico and asked deported veterans where would they like to start a mural project. They took me to the airport and canals. Then they drove me to the US-Mexico border fence near in Playas de Tijuana. The project has existed on the border fence since 2012 and contains one of the most famous images regarding the US-Mexico border crisis. The Deported Veterans Mural Project is sister project to Veterans Alley.

What is the reality you are living today post military service?

Myths pervade around military service and veterans. One myth is that of the buffalo soldiers being a symbol of liberation and overcoming oppression. Now, if you were an American Indian and you saw a buffalo soldier during the Indian Wars your heart was filled with dread. You have to come to terms with the fact that you could end up on the wrong side of history. You could end of defeating communism (good thing) or killing American Indians. That’s one aspect of it.

The other is the everyday anti-blackness that exists in America. You go away and come home, to people using the n word, the police targeting you, workplace discrimination, predatory home lenders…you name it. For African American veterans America is a war zone.

This is nothing unique for we can document race riots that happened at WWI military bases when black soldiers were fighting and then the discrimination African American GI’s experienced after WWII, from the denial of their G.I Bill VA loan rights that housed millions of Americans.

Racism is systemic and as an African American the more you navigate all systems, from the workplace to the museum, racism will be there to greet you at the door.

What does your art represent?

The “Blinded by the Lights” shows how we willingly choose to lose our common sense based upon the belief of things that are not seen. How religion compels us to put ourselves at and others at risk. Many people go to a church, a mosque, or a synagogue and catch the holy ghost with a bonus prize of coronavirus. They then go home as a Covid-19 spreader. It goes to show how many people around the world will take for granted another human being’s life over a belief system.

Kinda’ sounds like war. Right? That’s what’s happening all over the world today. In the Middle East, Christian Churches and Synagogues in America, etc.

The other is “Truth of the matter.” It speaks for itself. Of course, this is my most censored artwork. You know there are a quite a few African America veterans who are murdered by the police after being in these military environments. In the battlefield you can defend yourself, but here you’re defenseless when you’re coming across the police. You look back and ask yourself “Why did I put myself at risk of this defend a system that censors me, denies me and seeks to destroy me on a daily basis.

“No Pills” is about the over medication of veterans and its consequences. These things lead to high rates in suicide in our community. One obvious answer is through cannabis usage to help treat the multitude of ailments that we suffer from.

RURAL VETERANS

James Stephen "Steve" Wallace
1952-2020

U.S. NAVY 
Humboldt County, CA

Bio: Steve Wallace was introduced to Amos Gregory by the Eureka VA as a veteran artist interested in participating in this exhibition. Steve was a cherished member of the Eureka, Ca. VA clinic and his artwork has adorned the clinic and is part of their permanent collection. During his time working with our project Steve was a wonderful addition for he possessed a warm spirit and some serious art skills.

Steve’s passing came as a blow to our team of artists and serves as a reminder to us that tomorrow is not promised and to live it as fully as possible. That was Steve to us…

1 love, brother Steve. Rest In Power.

James Stephen “Steve” Wallace, an artist and resident of Humboldt County since 2014, died July 30, 2020 at the San Francisco VA Hospital, a few weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

Steve was born on July 21, 1952 and lived as a young child in Corpus Christi, Texas. He later lived in Mission, Texas, Redondo Beach, California, and Bountiful, Utah, before returning to Corpus Christi as a young adult. When Steve was denied Conscientious Objector status despite his being a committed pacifist, which he would remain for the rest of his life, he was prepared to go to prison for his beliefs. He instead joined the US Navy in 1972 with the agreement and courageous insistence that he would not handle weapons of war. Steve served proudly and found a true home in the Navy that was more than just bombs and bullets. His performance reviews noted he completed his deck, watch, and ship maintenance duties well and became “one of the most dependable, experienced seamen” who was “well-liked throughout the crew.” He transferred to the Reserves in 1975, and was honorably discharged in 1978.

After his release from active duty, Steve studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, then painted when he had time while he worked in Central Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas. In Humboldt County, he robustly embraced his beloved art vocation full time. He enjoyed sketching and painting in many settings: in classes with other artists, in his homey D Street apartment studio in Eureka, on the streets, and outdoors in the unsurpassed beauty of the region he took into his heart. He kept his brushes and sketchbooks close at all times. His paintings have graced walls in private homes, in the Humboldt County VA Clinic, and at the Veterans Resource Center. Several of his drawings were printed in the Humboldt Edge. Other works had been chosen for possible display in a pending statewide Veterans Arts Project.

Steve lived by his personal integrity, love and empathy for fellow humans, and dedication to his own and others’ art in all forms. He enjoyed good relationships with family and friends, travel, humor, intellectual stimulation, history, and old movies. He often spoke of his gratitude that the “Great Almighty” guided his life and met his humble needs. Steve dedicated much of his heartfelt energy into standing against the suffering caused by social injustices.

He is loved and missed by close and extended family as well as longtime and recent friends. He donated his body to medical research; his ashes will be scattered at sea in San Francisco Bay, by the city that helped shape his artistic gifts as a young man.

He repeatedly expressed appreciation for the competent, caring services and healthcare provided by the Veterans Administration in Arkansas and California. The compassionate hospice staff in the SFVA provided Steve a safe, comforting waystation before his spirit returned to the Source to continue his journey in eternal love. Godspeed.

The obituary and photos were submitted on behalf of Steve’s loved ones. Full Obituary available at lostcoastoutpost.com

Scotty Burchill

U.S. ARMY
Eureka, CA

Bio: Scotty Burchill is a US Army veteran. A life long pacifist, who even while serving never drifted from his principles and beliefs. He lives in Eureka, Ca. where he is a prolific creator of artwork, incubates alternative solutions to the affordable housing crisis that grips the entire State of California. Scotty’s work is simple and brilliant and offers a unique perspective of life in rural California. Scotty is the recipient of a Veterans Alley artistic grant and will be creating artwork upon Veterans Alley’s wall.

DEPORTED VETERANS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE

“People don’t realize Black people also get tied up in immigration. Being deported is like a scarlet letter here in Jamaica and there is less support for us here.”

Jefferey Brown, U.S. Army

David Bariu

U.S. ARMY
Washington/Kenya

Bio: I joined the U.S. Armed forces in 1999.I got honorably discharged from the Army because I was one of the FI Student Visa recruited students. This is a journey of a deported U.S. veteran based on the recruitment promises, serving in the military, becoming a vet. I expected from the military my GI bill, my VA benefits, my housing benefits to help my family in any way I could. Finish my education. That’s what I wanted. They promised that since we came to the country legally [F1 students] we were able to join the military. In return, we’ll get our education, GI Bill, and naturalized. That was just a story.

From what we understood he [the recruiter] was court-martialed in Fort Hood. He said he did that to get his points up. He had to get seventy points, so he had to recruit as much as he could. They found the recruiter to be on the wrong side. But they say ICE would finalize the naturalization of F1 students. I had to find my own lawyer to try to understand. We only got to the stage of the interview. ICE came through, canceled my interview. Saying they had unforeseen circumstances. I’ve called my lawyer. They didn’t say anything. A few months after that they came to my place and sent me in.

Why did you join the military? I saw in the military core values, integrity, selfless service, loyalty. What I saw after was being ignored. You serve, but if you don’t know where to go who to talk to you will be lost. That’s what I saw. And I don’t know if there should be a system where they help veterans who don’t know what’s going on. To be in tune with the processing of veterans. Help them in all they can. There’s a lot of PTSD, stress, a lot of homeless veterans.

What does your canvas represent? It represents a journey. The military one represents the vision I had of military integrity, loyalty, and civil service. That is what the flag behind me is what I represented. The yellow, black, and white represent who I am right now. The reality of what transpired. What I had to go through to see the next day. It’s a small picture of Africa and the brains of my daughter. So it represents the journey. What I was going through at each moment.

Jefferey Brown

U.S. ARMY
New York/Jamaica

Bio: I served in the U.S. Army, 1st Battalion Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart in Savannah, Georgia. I drove a big tanker. I went to training, went to Kuwait, and then Iraq. It’s imperative that we find our collective core. Find our consciousness. We have to see the world as itself. A white man has to see a Black man with a noose on his neck the same way they see a Black man earn a scholarship to play football, see the deported veteran. We must see to create a consciousness and know right from wrong.

How is your life now right now? Justice needs to be done. People need to get consciousness. People don’t realize Black people also get tied up in immigration. Being deported is like a scarlet letter here in Jamaica and there is less support for us here. Elements of my Deportee status are even used by adversarial parties and blessings in the flesh of my first begotten.

Poem by Jeffery Brown: 

“Army of One”
I went were you told me to go   |   Do you not love me anymore? 
I did what you told me to do   |   Yet you say “I don’t know you”
How could you?   |   After all these years
Blood, sweat and tears   |   You fed and cloth me
How dare you say that you don’t know me   |   Were all those lies
you told me   |   Dreams you sold me 
Be all you can be   |   Land of the free 
But now I see   |   The only Army is me…and he

Rudi Richardson

U.S. ARMY
California/England

Bio: I’m a deported veteran honorably discharged. I was given the same story that a lot of other people were given. When I initially joined the army, I was 17, so my parents had to sign me up. They had just told me I was adopted two weeks prior. So they brought all the German papers and asked the recruiter “what can we do to ensure that my son gets US citizenship?” The recruiter just said, you automatically become one, you know, once he’s honorably discharged. When I was discharged from the Army, under the Vietnam era adjustment appointment program we could be fast-tracked into the federal government jobs without going through the regular processes.

Anyway, they hired me as a clerk. One day, I received a memo from the personnel office saying that I had to show proof of my citizenship. So automatically I thought everything was fine and I went to the personnel office, I showed him my DD214(discharge papers) and I told them what the recruiter said, I’m automatically a citizen. And they said that’s not true.

They terminated me a week later because I failed to show proof of my citizenship. That’s when on a psychological level, emotional, I just fucking broke down. Here I am 21. My wife to be, carrying our first child, about to get married and everything just went array.

From a deported veterans perspective, I became a drug addict. And also at the same time, my bipolar disorder was untreated. Mental health? I didn’t know what it was. I was hearing voices, hearing my name through the radio and I knew that something was wrong. But I was too afraid to tell anybody. 

So I would work under the radar, different temporary jobs, corporate America. But at the same time I’m dealing with my addiction, dealing with this big hole in my soul in terms of I’m not a fucking citizen. My marriage fails. I’m a full blown addict now. I’m on the streets. I’m prostituting my sexualities all over the place. I don’t know who the fuck I am. I’m not giving a fuck. I’m going in and out of prisons, mental hospitals. Then I would get clean again and go up the corporate ladder and get that job making $40,000 a year and relapse back down on skid row. It’s a vicious cycle. 

I would get busted for petty theft and they’re saying they’re gonna deport me. I just didn’t believe that. I had no legal representation and no support when I went through deportation proceedings. They give me a one-way ticket to Frankfurt, Germany. I had a nervous breakdown. 

The pivotal point for me was when I was homeless for 3 or 4 months in London, England. I dozed off in a church. A lady came by and put some money in my hand, gave me a hug, and a sandwich. Tears were just rolling. At that point I knew that I really had to stand on my own two feet and make it no matter what. I got clean and sober. I had a few relapses, I’m not gonna lie. But I built a charity and did some good work with the community. I did some community work in Turkey, Rome, France. For me, my salvation through the whole thing has been being of service to save my own ass.

From the 900 veterans deported, there’s at least half that were promised citizenship. The people that got lied to, need to come home or the government needs to get sued. I feel betrayed. I’d like to see America before I die. I’d like to see my grandchildren. I’d be happy with just visiting.

DEPORTED VETERANS OF LATIN HERITAGE

“We’re saying we deserve to be home because we’re American soldiers and the trauma we’ve experienced is because of our experiences in America and the military.”

Alex Murillo, U.S. Navy

Alex Murillo

U.S. NAVY
Phoenix, AZ/Mexico

Bio: I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. I’m a Navy veteran. I’m currently deported to Mexico. I’m fighting to get home. I served out of high school in 1996. I served on USS George Washington with Squadron VS 32. I was an aircraft mechanic. I have four kids and I miss my family. All my family is back home. My service was for that, for my family, for my country. Now I find myself separated from them.

How was life after service? I was trying to live my life after serving is sometimes hard. I had trouble like many veterans do with self-medication. I ended up getting in trouble with cannabis, even though they’re making a lot of money now and its legal in many states. They charged me in 2009 and back then it was viewed differently. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m a Veteran, a U.S. soldier, and American. That’s part of the fight we’re in right now. We’re saying we deserve to be home because we’re American soldiers and the trauma we’ve experienced is because of our experiences in America and the military. My problems of self-medication were not given to me in Mexico. They we’re given to me in Mexico as a U.S. soldier. My identity and the way I grew up, the struggles I’ve been through are my struggles as an American. I didn’t know any other country. The reason I know another country now is because my country has exiled me to another country. We go and serve our country and come back with problems. We don’t get the help from VA from our country. We get in trouble and get kicked out. It’s unjust and Unamerican.

Cesar Nunez

U.S. Marine Corps
Los Angeles, CA

I was born in Juarez, Mexico, immigrated to the US when I was around four years old. I grew up in Los Angeles. In 2012 I got deported. That’s when I found out veterans could get deported and it changed my life. It’s been eight years of struggle. I grew up without a father, with a single mother. The best thing about the Marines for me was I found my brothers and my sisters and my daddy’s there. Everybody. Eight years ago they stopped me in Texas coming back from Costa Rica. I land and they asked me if I committed a crime in Mexico in 2012. The way they were interpreting the law, I was a criminal and a threat to the nation and I needed to be removed. I was detained from October 28th, 2012 to February 25th of 2013. Then I got deported to Mexico. I had to cross. I couldn’t find a way to get back home. I ended up crossing that border on my own. It took me three days and four nights.

What does your art represent? The title is Lone Wolf Sounds-Off I’m the lone wolf that crossed the border. I came up with desert and road which represents I-10. I just grew up on those highways between Juarez and LA. The wolf represents me crossing that border. When I’m howling, I’m spreading the news of veterans getting deported. Each butterfly represents a name of one of those deported veterans. The moon is really meaningful to me, always my source of inspiration since I was a kid. I added a face, my wife. There’s a little constellation near the moon, that’s my constellation. The cactus it’s interesting. When I was crossing that desert coming back undocumented I didn’t have food or water. I found water than people leave behind, water drops. The most beautiful thing any human being can do for another human being. I wanted to thank that person. That’s one of the hardest memories I have. The roadrunner represents the quickness of Congress to get away. We feel like we’re a coyote chasing the roadrunner to get them to change the law. There’s a piece of parchment on the feet of the roadrunner with numbers of bill submitted that never went anywhere.

Edwin Salgado

U.S. ARMY
Orange County/Mexico

Bio: I served in the U.S. Marine Corps. I would like to thank USMC for teaching me how to survive. I’m proud of being able to survive deportation with the training they provided.

How did you imagine military life would be? The recruiter painted a pretty picture. They told me that if I went to boot camp and did my time, I’d end up with my own little house, married, a perfect life. I’d be happy. 

How is life now after service? My reality consists of PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and hypervigilance, memory loss, a few other things. 

What does your canvas represent? It’s a picture that was taken of me and the smoke in the background represents the oil fields that were burned down in Iraq. It also represents the uncertainty of coming back home and not knowing what to do with yourself, the thought of war, the disability that a lot go through when we get back home. The people that we love don’t know how to deal with us and a lot of the time that leads them to leave us or just to not be around us anymore.

It’s something many people go through. It feeds your depression and PTSD but it also feeds into the whole I’m unlovable type of mentality and chaos.

Jimmy Caso

U.S. ARMY
Los Angeles, CA/Mexico

Bio: I served from July 5th, 1977 – December 1983. Honorable. I was on standby for the Iran Hostage Crisis. The month that Elvis Presley died. I want people to know the hurt and disappointment and impact of a country that I loved very much. I really feel hurt.

How was life after service? My dad was a Korea Drill Instructor. He was very strict and taught me how to fight. I used to fight, stand up to the bullies.

Even though I had problems with drugs way back then, I never asked anything from the VA anything. Even though I had a bunch of mental problems. But I am a lot better now.

It’s scary over here. You get thrown over here. A lot of people see my tattoos. Art has been my best friend, the love of my life. If it wasn’t for art, I would die.

Joe Rico

U.S. NAVY
Harligen, TX/Mexico

Bio: My name is Jose Rico I served in 2002-2006 and then three more years with the SeesBees SW3 for seven years.

What does your painting represent? I have two sons in the US. Pretty much that’s what my painting is representing. That I miss them.

How did you imagine your life like when you enlisted? Before the service, they painted a pretty good picture. I never thought I’d be living here in Tijuana/Rosarito, Mexico. But here I am. I thought that I would receive a lot more help from the government, the U.S. But no, here I am. Well that’s pretty much answered.

Mario Reyes Rangel

U.S. ARMY
East Los Angeles, CA/Mexico

Bio: I was born Jalisco, Mexico and grew up in East LA. I joined the service in 1980, right out of high school. I served 4 years active and served with the 82 Air Borne, Expeditionary Group. I’ve never painted before. I’ve only drawn in pencil. We all got together and we expressed ourselves. I never painted and I think it came out pretty good. I’m ready for the next one. This experience has brought the best out of us.

How was life after service? Being a veteran is still part of a group that’s never finished. From 9 to 14, I spent time gang banging, so I saw a lot. I probably already had PTSD, but when I came back from service that just carried on. I started kicking it with the homies and you can’t just leave the hood. I had a good job and good opportunities and I messed them up. I finally fell. I was having trouble with me and I didn’t even recognize it for years.

How is your life now right now? I’m happy. I have a good circle right here. I’m trying to get in better shape. I’m training for a boxing fight with a younger Marine. I want to instill that in younger people. Mexico is dangerous there are girls missing every day. I want to teach about self-defense, teaching them how to fight. I’m into that right now. I feel like I can influence kids and at least be a descent example.

Most U.S. Americans are not aware that the country continues a long- standing practice of deporting veterans. Deported veterans and advocates worldwide have been organizing for over a decade to help shape U.S. Congressional legislation to ensure that their service and contributions to the country are acknowledged and that a path towards repatriation is created for them.

Many deported veterans, especially those with access to public counsel or non-profit support, are also filing pardons with state governments and are requesting their earned military veterans affairs compensation for injuries caused by service in the military.

At the height of the Iraq War (Operation Enduring Freedom), George W. Bush signed an Executive Order expediting the non-citizen veterans’ naturalization process. Congress later expanded the order under the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act. The act further defined the shared process between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent the deportation of US Military Veterans. Unfortunately, these changes never occurred in practice. As a result, between 2013 and 2018 alone,

250 veterans were placed in removal proceedings or deported from the United States.

Currently, the 116th Congress has introduced eight legislative bills that would protect non-citizen veterans and create a path toward repatriation for those who have already been deported.

The 3 main bills are:

Honoring the Oath Act of 2019 (H.R. 5151), which will establish a Military Family Immigration Advisory Committee and modify the naturalization procedures for a non-citizen in the Armed Forces.

The Repatriate Our Patriots Act (H.R. 1078) would create a pathway to citizenship for deported veterans.

The Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act (H.R. 4890) would improve data tracking and provide a study to gain an accurate number of veterans deported.

Below is the full list of bills:

H.R.5151 – Honoring the Oath Act of 2019 H.R.1078 – Repatriate Our Patriots Act

H.R.4890 – Veteran Deportation Prevention and Reform Act

S.2450 – Protecting Immigrant Gold Star and Military Families Act H.R.3806 – Protecting Immigrant Gold Star and Military Families Act Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019

H.R.2098 – Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019

H.R.2346 – Support and Defend Our Military Personnel and Their Families Act

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2021 Featured Artists

Veteran Art Institute is proud to present the 2021 featured artists of the year.

The 2021 Veteran Art Exhibit is the first VAI exhibit since the pandemic.  This calls to mind the resilience and tenacity of veterans in general, but especially those who have expressed themselves through their art. What great role models for everyone’s mental health! 
 
The VAI 2021 Featured Artist Exhibit provides a new platform to view veteran art, in a “gallery”, without having to worry about social distancing. 
 
Our featured 2021 veteran artists represent a cross-section of pre and post 9/11, diverse service divisions, cross section of gender, age, ethnicity and medium.  This exhibit will continue to update with more artists.   
 
Some artists are also featured in “VETART’s Pop-Up Cafés” – a partnership with the California’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC). It’s overarching arts advocacy goal of generating awareness of the critical role the arts play in benefitting the mental wellness of Veterans.
 
Check out our 2021 Virtual Exhibit!  The first venue to represent veteran art in the digital world. 
Oceanside/San Diego, CA

Amanda Saint Claire

NAVY VETERAN

My work is the exploration of relationships and resistance, both arising internally and externally. The visual arts are a form of language that transcends time and culture. At times, my work is a window into my subconscious, and, at other times, a snapshot of my reactivity, my comfort, and my discomfort revealed. Whether I’m diving into the complexities presented by the nuances of being female in male dominated professions, exerting a sense of self in a long term marriage, or balancing my rebel self with the duties of motherhood to three children, now teens, I find that I am always examining and refining my identity through my work.

Marysville, CA

Luis Gonzalez

ARMY VETERAN

I am an Army veteran on the road to recovery and use art as part of my therapy. Transitioning back into the civilian world wasn’t easy and I came close to ending it all. I just woke up one day and said to myself “this isn’t me – I need to do something”. I turned my attention to education and the one thing I was really good at as a kid… Art. I became obsessed with drawing dogs because of my service dog Tina. The love she held for me during my worst days is something I wanted others to see. Through my art I try to show others that love doesn’t also come from people but also your pets. I’ve drawn for people who have lost their pets so they can have something to cherish. On top of this I enjoy drawing self-portraits of families and loved ones who are having a bad day. I want to make others smile through my art.

Payette, ID

Jay Goettsch

MARINE AND ARMY VETERAN

Jerome Goettsch

Jerome (Jay) served 25 years in the military; 9 years (Marine Corps) and16 (Army). His career included two years in Vietnam; 12 months as a Marine infantry riflemen and Fire Team Leader, and 12 months as an ordnance Platoon Sergeant. Caught off guard by a land mine on his first tour in Vietnam, Jerome was seriously injured. He is a member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.

Although pre-service, Jay loved to draw and paint, his first art class was at age 45. He believes art represents an unspoken communication between the artist and the observer. He believes that art should be loose, fluid, and above all fun. Jerome admonishes everyone to not just look but see. His motto: “to be an observer and draw something every day.”

Email: j_goettsch@gmail.com

Costa Mesa, CA

Phyllis Miller

NAVY VETERAN

Picture of Phyllis Thomas Miller

Creating visual images that spark self-reflection and motivate the healing process is my passion. As a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, I find guiding therapeutic art groups for the veteran community enriching. I love experimenting with colors, textures, and techniques and using various surfaces, including canvas, wood, metals—even footwear! Many of my creations have been featured in interior art placements, restoration projects, and mural commissions. Inspired by outdoor vistas, much of my artwork features unusual landscapes where I highlight nature’s graceful beauty. You can see my celebration of spirit in the Vibrant Nature and Universe Sensations series or the integration of man and universe in Man & Energy. And The Price of Freedom is my visual tribute to the courageous men and women of our military.


Every day I find joy, hope, and acceptance in my craft. My wish for you is that through my artwork, you experience the same.

Email: phyl2meroeart@yahoo.com

Rockville Centre, NY

Neil Leinwohl

ARMY VETERAN

NEIL LEINWOHL _ PHOTO

Raised in NYC, my art started in 1964 with a scholarship to the NY School of Visual Arts. From 1966-69 I served in the Army, as a photographer in Viet Nam and the 82nd Airborne Division. Since 1970, my art life grew as a writer, art director and creative director in advertising. Retired 2014, I now work full-time on art. 

My art is about personal mythology and the unreliable nature of memory. It tells a story of the profound events in my life that have created powerful memories and the emotional experiences of recalling them. 

2020-21 has been a year of isolation and fear: of people, things we touch, streets we use, air we breathe. My recent work reflects that.

 

Email: leinwohlart@hotmail.com

Cuba City, WI

Dallas Ebersviller

NAVY VETERAN

image0 (5)

I am 30 years old, married to my lovely wife Ariel and have three children : Owen, Evalyn and Ivan. I was born and raised in Montana, and moved to Wisconsin when I was 11 years old. I joined the Navy when I was 20, served as a Nuclear Machinist’s Mate. I was an instructor at NPTU Charleston right after my training and taught for 4 years. I was then stationed on the USS Nimitz as well as IMF Bangor. I was Medically Retired after seven years of service. I enjoy oil painting, fishing and playing guitar. I have been Oil Painting for the last three years. I am inspired to paint nature but also the things as well as US Navy Ships and Aircraft. Painting helps me relax and helps with my medical issues, as well as it feels like it gives me a purpose other than being a family man.

Email: ebersviller@hotmail.com

San Deigo, CA

Reginald Green

NAVY VETERAN

Reggie with sculpture

Reginald Green was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. As a medically retired Navy Veteran, Reggie got into art to heal and explore his creativity. This enabled him to shift his focus off his highly debilitating migraines, headaches, depression and lower back pain sustained during his service. Reggie decided  to express himself by learning the basics of molding, sculpting and painting. “When I create art, I can get lost in the process and takes my mind off the pain”. Reggie is a VETART Project instructor and also teaches classes at The Aspire Center and the La Jolla VA

Email: reginalddgreen@gmail.com

Gridley, CA

Aaron Burks

ARMY & NAVY VETERAN

image

Aaron Burks was born in Long Beach, CA in 1978. He served in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army between 1995-2011 when he retired. Aaron is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Martin. Most of his work revolves around the military and veteran themes. He is now a full time artist living in Gridley CA.

Email: thepaintlocker@gmail.com

San Diego, CA

Susan J. Farese

ARMY NURSE CORPS & NAVY NURSE CORPS

Susan's photo

I am inspired and captivated by creativity in life. My visual art passion is nature photography. It relaxes me, makes me mindful of and grateful for my surroundings.  Most of my photos include shorebirds, benches (yes, benches), beaches, flowers, rock formations, cityscapes, animals, landscapes and other interesting subjects, including people! 

I use my intuition, my keen eye, natural light, a passion for nature and a heartfelt commitment with each photo. I am also a published poet and occasionally combine these art forms on website. I also offer my work at pixels.com and Fine Art America.

Sarasota Springs, NY

Paul Bouchard

NAVY RESERVES

Paul Bouchard

Paul Bouchard is a multi-faceted artist. His work is particularly influenced by working through his PTSD from the Vietnam War. His primary media are handmade cast paper, oils, welded aluminum and steel, acrylic, and watercolor.

Email: paul.eugene.bouchard@gmail.com

WVAP 2019 EXHIBIT – NASHVILLE, TN

Nashville, TN
10/26/2019
Nashville VA Medical Center

EXHIBITOR

Christina Carlton, US Navy
Exhibit Ambassador

Crystal Brown

Raaya Lock

“Jo” Frankie-Wyle

Dalisay Hospedales

Raven Fitzgerald

Jack Payton\

Roxanne Dunn

Sharon Salinas

Norma Widman

Heather Starner

Maureen Brady

Eleanor Troyanoskaya

Natalie Shine

Jessica Lewis

Tiffany Dillard

Cindy Holt

Sandy Pallota

Mary O

Cindy Holt

Sandy Hendricks

Dr. Tanya Porashka

Dr. Kasey

Paula Prevost

Kate Revels

Patricia Banks

Jessica Wilson

Annette Hunter

WVAP 2019 EXHIBIT – FAYETTEVILLE, NC

Fayetteville, NC
11/7/2019 – 11/30/2019
Fayetteville VA HealthCare Center

EXHIBITOR

Tess Holtzapfel
Exhibit Ambassador

Andrea Tolbert, U.S. Army

Margaruite “Marzie” Brosseau, U.S. Air Force

Bernardine “Bernie” Donato, U.S. Navy  & National Guard

Karen Lassiter, U.S. Army

Nadia Salamea, U.S. Army

Rosemary Turner, U.S. Navy &  U.S. Marines