Self-Portraits Capture Glimpse of Veteran Life

Veterans create self-portraits in a variety of mediums in the exhibit “Look At Me: How Veterans View Themselves.”

Johnathan Meadows Sculpture
Jonathan Meadows Sculpture (Photo courtesy of Workhouse Arts Center)

By Emily Rust

They might be more used to camo than ceramics, but the latest group of artists at Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton has created an exhibit that rivals any professional artist’s work.

Coming from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital, these artists aren’t spending all their time in the studio. No, instead they are active duty service members using art as a form of recovery.

Their task was to create a self-portrait. Some work is more traditional, while others interpreted it in a more abstract way.  A variety of mediums will be represented in the exhibit, “Look At Me: How Veterans View Themselves,” with each veteran free to express themselves as they felt.

When approaching the veterans about the show, director of visual arts Brett John Johnson noticed many at first hesitant to participate, but after some convincing, they were able to find an outlet for their emotions within art.

Although the pieces vary among the 20 artists, the tone is generally darker than a traditional artist exhibition, Johnson says.

One artist being featured is Sgt. T. Michael Goodrich, who has found art to be a great form of therapy. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and is recovering after injuries endured in Eastern Afghanistan in 2012.

Johnathan Meadows Sculpture
Jonathan Meadows Sculpture (Photo courtesy of Workhouse Arts Center)

Another artist is Jonathan Meadows.  Meadows discovered art after suffering a traumatic brain injury from his recent deployment to Afghanistan. While in recovery, he has used sculpture and painting to express himself.

For the exhibit’s opening on June 20, veterans will have the opportunity to participate in the one-night event, Combat Paper, put on by a community of veterans from New Jersey.

The combat paper process first starts with fatigues, which are cut into small pieces. The pieces are then placed into a machine where they are beat down to a liquid and from there, created into paper. Using a special process, they are able to use transformed fatigues as a basis for art, overlaying texts and images on this new paper.

In the gallery space next door, photographer and veteran Willie Young will display his exhibit “Arrested Restlessness,” telling the story of a soldier’s experience with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like last year’s “360 Degrees of Post-Traumatic Stress,” Johnson says he  hopes “Look At Me” will be a catalyst for conversation between veterans and the community.



“Look At Me: How Veterans View Themselves”
Workhouse Arts Center
9518 Workhouse Way
June 20-July 27
Opening Reception June 20, 7 p.m.