War and art are not new bedfellows – think of the poems and sketches created in the World War One trenches – but a new exhibition in County Durham is highlighting the works created by the modern military veterans. What sort of art are they producing and why?
The art of PTSD
On 8 August 1970, 17-year-old John Cutting joined the Army.
Five years later, after being stationed in Northern Ireland “at the height of the Troubles”, he left facing a lifelong battle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What so affected him was not the sniper shots or close-call bomb blasts, but rather the “constant, intense abuse” he received while patrolling the streets.
“People were screaming and spitting at us. They looked like me, talked like me, dressed like me and yet they wanted to kill me,” he recalls.
He likens the psychological effect of that to the impact of child abuse.
“PTSD is a fear of what’s going to happen to you. When I go out, my sub-conscious thinks I’m still in Belfast even though my conscious knows I am not.”
He is in a constant state of exhausting “hyper-vigilance”, John says.
The triggers for him are “trivial”, like an awkward exchange with someone in the street, but the effects are anything but.
He has contemplated suicide, deterred only by the thought of what would happen to his dog Alfie.
Four years ago he had a moment of inspiration in which he created a horse’s head from horseshoes for his granddaughter, and he realised he had discovered art.
He credits it with saving his life.
“The biggest killer is ruminating,” he says. “Art has become my focus instead, it stops me thinking of other things.
“It’s not art therapy, it’s an art obsession.”
With the financial backing of Style for Shoulders and the Army Benevolent Fund, he has completed a degree in fine art and is now studying a masters at York St John University.
Three of his works can be seen at the Through Soldiers’ Eyes exhibition in Bishop Auckland Town Hall, and each is riddled with meaning.
One is a humanoid sculpture made from the used prosthetic limbs donated by the Ministry of Defence’s veterans’ rehabilitation centre.
Another is a representation of a paratrooper made from building materials. This was inspired by his meeting with the family of a paratrooper who died and after the exhibition ends he intends to gift the piece to them.
The third is a life-size stag made from a clothes rail and coat hangers.
He says the stag is intended to convey the common ground people all around the world share – a love and need of shopping – although he also says people should “create their own stories” from his work.
He mainly uses bits and bobs scavenged from skips and beaches.
He says his PTSD has helped with his art, because his hyper-alert brain wants to make what, to him “does not look right” and potentially dangerous, appear non-threatening.
John hopes his progress can also change public perception of “drunk, homeless veterans”.
“It’s easy to condemn them and write them off, but it’s so easy for someone to fall into that way of life,” he says, adding: “These veterans are dealing with something they cannot really control.
“I want the message to be that people with mental health issues like me can be productive, we can have a positive existence.”
Being a soldier and creating art are a natural fit for Paul Cappleman.
“In the army you tend to be very kinaesthetic – hands on, and art is also very hands on,” the 58-year-old says.
“Once you start doing something with your hands you are so concentrated on it that it takes whatever hassle you are having in your brain, be it PTSD, depression, flashbacks, and puts it far away in a little box.”
The 58-year-old joined the Junior Regiment Royal Signals at 16 and went on to serve around the world, from Northern Ireland and Bosnia to the Falklands and the Gulf.
His job was laying communications lines – “a BT engineer with a gun” – and he says the “wear and “tear” of lugging cable drums around eventually saw him medically discharged 23 years and 69 days after he signed up.
He has undergone numerous surgeries and for years was on a cocktail of powerful painkillers before deciding to use art as a distraction.
“I was a guidance officer in a prison in Northallerton helping inmates come off drink and drugs and distraction therapy was something we found really useful,” Paul says.
“I just decided to follow my own advice.”
He began painting in 2016, since when he has completed a degree in fine art and become an art tutor.
His exhibition paintings contrast his current family life with vivid memories of his past in the forces.
One is a beach scene, featuring his children playing in the sand beside a soldier in full chemical warfare gear in a desert.
Another shows children playing with sparklers near a bonfire merging into the smoke billowing out of the Sir Galahad, an RFA ship sunk during the Falkland War.
“I was watching my children play and the way the smoke from the bonfire was drifting just took me straight back to how the smoke was blown by the helicopters to clear the way for people to escape the Sir Galahad,” he said.
“The flashbacks aren’t always a bad memory and everyone has them, not just soldiers.
“Whatever walk life you are in, you are formed and governed as to how to react to things by the things you have done and experiences you have had.
“Soldiers are no different, it’s just the jobs we have been asked to do are maybe a bit more intense, nearer the knuckle.”
One of the main purposes of art is “communication”, Paul says, which is why it is a useful tool to share experiences and perspectives.
“It’s about showing how I maybe see things a bit differently because of my experiences, and understanding how experiences shape everyone of us.”
Tanks for the memories
Mick Graham aims to “conjure up memories” for his fellow tank veterans, wanting them to be able to “smell the diesel” when they see his paintings.
The 61-year-old ex-tank driver and gunner’s works are realistic depictions of tanks in atmospheric locations.
But to anyone who has spent a career working with these machines, his creations are a noisy trundle down memory lane.
“That’s what I feed off, making people feel that,” he says, sitting in his dining room-turned art studio in Chester-le-Street.
“Also, I just like making tanks look cool. Forget your boy racers with their loud exhausts, when you were on a tank you were a real poser.”
His father was in the 4th Royal Tank Regiment and Mick grew up playing on the old tanks they used for target practice.
He ended up joining the same regiment in 1979 at the age of 19 and could drive a tank before he passed his (car) driving test.
Mick served in Germany during the Cold War but was never called into action.
Being in the military was “absolutely brilliant,” he says, adding: “The camaraderie is just mind-blowing. The loss of that is one of the hardest things to deal with when you leave.”
Painting had always been a hobby, but almost six years ago people started to notice his works on Facebook and he began to get commissions.
He points to a painting on the wall showing a chieftain tank which, Mick says, was notorious for having engine trouble. On the ground beneath it is a tray to catch the frequent oil drips, the sort of detail easily missed by a civilian but which adds a level of realism to those in the know.
“The most important thing is accuracy,” he says, adding: “My audience is very picky, if even a small detail is wrong they will complain about it.”
As well as impressing tank enthusiasts, veterans and historians, Mick’s work has also been given the stamp of approval by Royal Mail.
It commissioned him to create eight stamps as part of a celebration of military vehicles, and he is bemused by the fame is brought him.
“At shows and tank festivals people ask me to sign their stamps,” he says with a chuckle.
He is entirely self-taught and modestly describes his talent as “being good at colouring in”.
He paints for hours a day, often into the small hours, with the full support of his partner Marian, with each work taking up to three months to complete.
He says he has been asked before about the ethics of glamourising deadly weaponry, but says what he paints are magnificent machines on training exercises.
The nomadic optimist
For Hazel Oakes, the military meant two things – travel and a sense of community.
The 31-year-old was a military child, her father John Oakes was in the Royal Signals, and she was born in Catterick, North Yorkshire, before going on to live in Cyprus, Germany and Belgium.
“I always loved moving around, making new friends and learning new things,” Hazel says.
That wanderlust has never left her, and since graduating from Northumbria University with a degree in fashion design, where she was also in the university’s Officer Training Corps, she has lived in France, Australia and Canada and is now in Italy.
Her experiences are reflected in her work at the exhibition, two giant murals painted either side of a wall – the bright colours applied directly to the brick work being a rebellion against the strictly magnolia interiors of her childhood army camp homes.
One side shows a child with the world in her hands, painted in the blues and greens of her father’s regiment, while the other is an adult sporting medals, the ribbons of which are comprised of the colours of the places Hazel lived.
“Medals are important in the military,” Hazel says, adding: “They mark significant achievement, and for me my achievement was getting to know the world.
“I wanted to represent growing up and how the military shaped my outlook on the world,”
The pink camouflage both figures are wearing is a nod to the military women in “a system historically created by and for men”.
Hazel’s is a very positive portrayal of military life, the excitement of going to new places and being part of a large community.
“Everyone’s experiences of the military are very different,” she says.
“Seeing the art of people who have been through major trauma is so important to help others try and understand.
“In my background there has always been a knowledge about danger, but I was never actually in danger and I have a really optimistic outlook on life which I want to show in my work to hopefully inspire and empower others.”
Once the exhibition is over, her mural will be painted over in readiness for the next display.
“The thing I like about murals and wall art is you do not know who will see it or what impression it will make, and then it is gone,” she says.
“It’s like being in the military. When you move to another place it’s up to you what you leave behind and what you take with you.”
The paratrooper poet
It was Craig’s therapist who suggested he get back into poetry, and she saved his life.
She had asked him to look back to a time when he was genuinely happy, part of his treatment after suffering significant trauma both in and out of the army.
That night he went home and opened a suitcase that he used as a memory box. There were tears at the photos of his now dead mum and dad.
And then he found the newspaper clipping showing an 11-year-old Craig being named the winner of a Littlewoods poetry competition.
That was when he had been happy, so that is the time his therapist said Craig should try and recreate.
“The first time I tried doing poetry again it was just words, but it felt good, I was getting all my dark thoughts out,” Craig, now a 42-year-old fitness fanatic helping other veterans and their families re-engage with sport through the Newton Aycliffe-based Sporting Force, says.
It showed him he could be happy again.
Craig had joined up when he was 16, and at the age of 20 was on the verge of joining the army’s England rugby Under-21 team.
But just a week before his team trial, everything came came to a shuddering halt when a parachute malfunction found him falling 3,000 feet to danger.
The crash-landing smashed both his ankles, broke multiple bones in his legs and fractured his spine.
Two years of physical recovery followed, in which he had to learn to walk again, along with harrowing flashbacks.
Craig was medically discharged and left suddenly without a career, without friends and without direction.
Homelessness, bankruptcy and family break-up followed.
He did enjoy success as salesman and working in schools, but at night he would drink two bottles of wine a night mixed with a cocktail of powerful pain killers.
“I was a high-functioning alcoholic,” he says.
Now, having found purpose with Sporting Force and an ability to truly empathise and help other veterans, including early leavers like himself, he is 12-and-a-half months sober and being a better dad for his three children.
Everyday he learns something new and does an act of kindness so that every night he goes to bed a wiser, nicer man.
Not all of his poetry is for sharing, he has a black book that is full of the darkest stuff.
“If I’m a bit low I read it to remind myself that it has been worse before and I have got through it,” he says.
But one of his pieces is in the exhibition, created during a poetry and creative writing course he helped organise during the lockdowns.
Art and sport serve the same purpose for veterans, Craig says.
“They save lives,” he says, adding: “When you are engaging in an activity that’s your focus.
“Say a cricket ball is being thrown at you, that is all you are thinking about. There’s a feel-good factor.
“Even if it just for half an hour, that person feels good, and they have got some hope back that actually they can have a better life.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a future.”
Through Soldiers’ Eyes is on at Bishop Auckland Town Hall until 20 November.
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Sask. art gallery reviewing 2,000 pieces following return of stolen Indian statue – CBC.ca
A Saskatchewan art gallery is investigating 2,000 pieces in its collection following the return of a stolen statue to India.
CBC News was recently granted access to the basement vault of Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, where namesake Norman MacKenzie’s journals and records are stored. They detail MacKenzie’s theft of the Indian statue, but also raise questions about other pieces he acquired from China, Syria and elsewhere.
Galleries and museums across North America and Europe are facing demands to return pieces looted from other countries. Some say it’s also time to debate whether names like MacKenzie should remain on those buildings.
“Institutions — whether they’re local, provincial, national — all created a colonial narrative. The narrative was one of defeat. It’s a colonial story,” said Gerald McMaster, a Canada research chair at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and director at the Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge.
“I think the reckoning is coming.”
The MacKenzie gallery’s CEO John Hampton recently escorted CBC News to a basement door marked “Vault,” keying in a series of security codes before entering. After donning blue latex gloves, Hampton opened a drawer containing MacKenzie’s original dictated ledgers from his 1913 world trips.
MacKenzie had moved to Regina from Ontario years earlier and established a thriving law practice. His growing art collection was almost totally destroyed during the 1912 Regina Cyclone, the deadliest tornado in Canadian history, which killed 28 people.
MacKenzie and his wife then embarked on the first of two world tours to replace and enhance his decimated collection.
The story of the statue
Hampton opened the large, black leather-bound book and flipped through page after page of photos and descriptions of each piece. It included the story of the Indian statue.
MacKenzie had apparently dictated the story at some point after returning: He and his guide were rowing down the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi, then called Benares, when they came upon a Hindu temple.
He saw three stone statues at the edge of a pool filled with red liquid. MacKenzie assumed it was sacrificial blood, but gallery officials say it was most likely coloured with “sindoor,” a red powder used in ceremonies.
MacKenzie talked to a man there who agreed to steal one of the statues. Later that night, the man brought all three to MacKenzie’s hotel room.
MacKenzie said he’d only buy one, because he knew it was “a most serious offence” and he could have “gotten into trouble” with the British colonial government if he tried to smuggle out all three. MacKenzie told the man to return to the scene and put back the other two statues.
But he took the third statue — depicting goddess Annapurna — back home to Saskatchewan, where it remained for the past 108 years.
In the ledger entry, as with others, MacKenzie appears proud to have spirited out the rare religious artifact.
“This is the idol that I saw the people worshipping … and is a good sample of the type of idol which is used by the poorer classes,” MacKenzie said.
Two years ago, visiting Winnipeg artist Divya Mehra raised questions about the statue, initially because it was mislabeled. Gallery officials investigated, concluded it belonged to the people of Varanasi and voluntarily returned it.
Upon its return last month, the Annapurna statue was draped in colourful robes and flowers and taken on a multi-city tour. Hindu faithful lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the procession to Varanasi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi in parliament, lauded its return. He also thanked gallery officials and the University of Regina, which was bequeathed MacKenzie’s collection after his death in 1936.
It was important for Annapurna to return home, said Hampton.
“There’s definitely mixed emotions that we’re all feeling here now; proud that we could take these steps, but also regret and shame, thinking that for over 100 years, she’s been gone from that territory and stewarded at the MacKenzie for so long without the same sense of care that she receives in that home community,” he said.
There are now questions over other works in the MacKenzie collection.
MacKenzie’s tours took him across Asia; he amassed a particularly large collection from China. At the time, many desperate, starving Chinese people were selling anything they had to survive.
According to MacKenzie’s own notes — which are also chronicled in a 2010 journal article by University of Regina professor emeritus Gail Chin — he talked to a Japanese diplomat about his desire to possess a “valuable Chinese idol.”
The man directed MacKenzie to two temples in the city of Soochow, now called Suzhou, where MacKenzie would find a monk “so hungry that he would trade food for an icon.”
That’s exactly what MacKenzie did. He placed the icon in his hand luggage and brought it back to Canada. That bronze, seated Buddha is still sitting in the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s basement.
Chin has researched MacKenzie’s Chinese collection, including the Buddha statue. In the 2010 article, she said MacKenzie’s goal of bringing the world’s art to the Canadian Prairies was noble on one level. But looking closer, she wrote, MacKenzie “wished for others to stand in awe of his taste, wealth and social position.”
In an interview with CBC News this week, Chin was asked how she feels about Norman MacKenzie today. She paused for several seconds before answering.
“Well, I suspect that Norman MacKenzie would probably ask me to shine his shoes,” said Chin, a third-generation Chinese Canadian.
“That was the social order back then, and I accept that. Society has changed, evolved. At least I hope so. Because along with Indigenous people, we all hope and pray for reconciliation.”
There are also questions about MacKenzie’s acquisitions of sacred religious items from other countries.
In 1930, MacKenzie bought a sculpture used in a funeral service in the Syrian region of Palmyra from controversial dealer Edgar Banks.
According to the journal Syria Archeology, Art and History, Banks looted dozens of sites across the Middle East and had been fired by the University of Chicago and other institutions for his unscrupulous practices in the years before that sale to MacKenzie.
Reconciliation as a central goal
The MacKenzie collection also contains scores of North American Indigenous art. Much of that was purchased directly from First Nations artists, but it will all be part of the 2,000-piece review now underway, Hampton said, who grew up in Regina and is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in the southern U.S.
Not all First Nations or international art was stolen or obtained unethically, said McMaster, a citizen of the Siksika Nation in Alberta, who grew up on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation near North Battleford, Sask.
But much of it was, he said, and the truth must come out.
The “colonial mentality” that allowed MacKenzie to steal art is the same mentality that allowed powerful white men to create the residential school system, McMaster said.
McMaster said three things need to happen at the MacKenzie and other galleries after the truth is exposed.
First, the talents and rights of these artists and cultures must be acknowledged.
Second, items must be returned to their rightful owners and communities, wherever possible.
Third, it’s time to debate whether to keep names like MacKenzie on galleries and museums.
Floyd Favel, the curator of the Chief Poundmaker Museum, a new gallery and museum on the Poundmaker Cree Nation near North Battleford, Sask., agreed. His main goal is to repatriate any items stolen from his First Nation.
“One of the root causes of major institutions being in possession of stolen art or artifacts is due to racism; those institutions feeling that those people or that artist or that group is not worthy of that very beautiful work of art, whereas we are, because we’re colonialists and we have a big museum,” said Favel.
It’s unclear how long the MacKenzie investigation will take. The gallery hopes to hire someone dedicated to that work and is searching for funding sources, Hampton said.
While some of MacKenzie’s actions were deplorable, Hampton said, any discussion should balance these “very glaring blind spots” with the positive aspects. For example, MacKenzie was a firm believer that art should be seen by all, even hosting exhibitions for the general public in his own home.
As for the gallery itself — which opened two decades after MacKenzie’s death — it was the first in Canada to host a show by Indigenous artists. Many of its curators and senior staff in recent years are Indigenous and from other diverse backgrounds. And reconciliation through art is now one of the gallery’s central goals, said Hampton.
“I think that there’s still a lot to admire about Norman MacKenzie and how he went about building his collection and thinking about the community here,” he said. “There’s a lot to be celebrated, and then there’s these elements that he needs to be held accountable.”
Northern Ireland collective wins the prestigious Turner Prize for art – Boise State Public Radio
LONDON — An 11-person collective from Belfast that aims to transcend Northern Ireland’s political and religious divides won the U.K.’s prestigious Turner Prize for art on Wednesday.
The Array Collective took the 25,000 pound ($33,000) prize for “The Druithaib’s Ball,” a recreation of a traditional Irish shebeen, or speakeasy, that is full of references to 100 years of Northern Ireland history. Prize organizers said the collective’s work tackles “urgent social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humor, seriousness and beauty.”
Collective member Laura O’Connor said the group would put the prize money toward finding a permanent base in Belfast, where redevelopment is making space less affordable for artists.
Named for 19th-century landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, the award was founded in 1984 and helped make stars of potter Grayson Perry, shark-pickling artist Damien Hirst and filmmaker Steve McQueen.
But it has also been criticized for rewarding impenetrable conceptual work and often sparks debate about the value of modern art. In 2019, all four finalists were declared winners after they refused to compete against one another. Last year’s prize was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, all five finalists were collectives rather than individual artists.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
BBCG Group's Art Goguen Retires, Michel Prud'homme Appointed as incoming Managing Director – Canadian Underwriter
MISSISSAUGA, ON, DECEMBER 1, 2021/insPRESS/ – BBCG Group, an SCM Company serving clients as part of ClaimsPro’s Specialty Risk Division, announced today that Art Goguen, a founding partner of BBCG and current Managing Director, will be retiring in January. Michel Prud’homme, who joined the company in 2001, will assume the Managing Director role simultaneously.
Art Goguen, the youngest of four partners, formed BBCG in 1997. Widely experienced, Mr. Goguen developed a notable reputation for delivering exceptional client service, focusing primarily on fidelity bond claims with emphasis in complex financial institution, surety, financial guarantee, and trade credit insurance claims. Prior to forming BBCG, Art worked for 15 years as a Bond Claims Adjuster for a major insurer and a leading insurance claims adjusting firm.
Michel Prud’homme started his work with BBCG Group more than 20 years ago. His areas of practice include surety and fidelity bond claims, professional indemnity, and Directors & Officers liability as well as financial institution bond and trade credit claims. He began his career in 1990 working as a Surety Underwriter with a prominent insurer, and in the following years, he gained experience with other insurers in surety, fidelity, and professional liability. Mr. Prud’homme is a graduate of Business Administration from the Université du Québec à Montréal, and a frequent speaker for the Insurance Institute of Canada, Surety Association of Canada and École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Mr. Prud’homme will transition to Managing Director in the new year, continuing to work alongside Mr. Goguen in the interim.
BBCG is recognized for performing professional and technically superior investigations throughout Canada and globally. Working as a team, BBCG Group engages the right complement of resources including accountants, engineers, and other specialists as required. The team specializes in Fidelity, Contract Surety, Cyber, Trade Credit, Construction Risks, Financial Lines, E&O, and D&O claims.
“Art Goguen’s years of practice, breadth of experience, and dedication to client service make him a real force in this industry,” begins Sean Forgie, Senior Vice President of ClaimsPro’s Specialty Risk Division. “We wish him all the best in his retirement, and we’re pleased to have an internal highly qualified candidate in Michel Prud’homme assume his role.”
Lorri Frederick, President of ClaimsPro, echoes Mr. Forgie. “Art Goguen brought so much to ClaimsPro with the founding of BBCG, and his excellent reputation of service precedes him,” says Ms. Frederick. “Congratulations on an exemplary career and congratulations to Michel Prud’homme.”
Art Goguen official retires January 15, 2022, and Michel Prud’homme assumes the Managing Director role at that time.
For more information, please contact:
ClaimsPro an independent adjusting and claims management company that has been working with Canada’s domestic insurance market for over 30 years. With offices in every province in Canada and multiple branch locations in the United States, ClaimsPro provides its clients with local expertise and the resources of a multi-national company. – claimspro.ca
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