Art is an unlikely weapon in the battle against physical and psychological injuries for our heroes but one wounded veteran has praised its role in his personal struggle after winning an award at a recent exhibition.
Martin Wade, 43, of Surrey, was awarded the top prize in the Wounded, Injured and Sick category for his painting “Never Ending Story” at the recent Army Arts Exhibition in Salisbury. Martin, who served in the Army for 15 years before medical discharge due to PTSD, is a regular attendee at Art sessions at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House and is undergoing a City and Guilds qualification.
“I was first encouraged to paint after I was medically discharged,” explained Martin. “Ever since then, Art has been my companion. Being able to have that expressive outlet has been an integral part of my recovery. It is the key component in my toolbox I use to cope with the daily challenges of PTSD.”
In November, Martin donated a picture to the Heroes Ball Art Auction in Hampshire. It was called “War Flag” and the words inscribed across the front read, ''as bloodied colours are freedom's stain, shattered limbs and hidden wounds remain''. His picture raised £750; however someone who lost out on the bidding commissioned Martin to paint the picture again offering him £1,200. Martin donated the entire amount of £1950 to Help for Heroes.
“The message behind the painting was extremely powerful and I was so pleased that it resonated with others too,” he said. “I wanted to create something that would carry the legacy of war.
“I wanted H4H to have the money as a thank you for all it has done for me. I once felt such despair and had no hope but H4H picked me up, carried me on their shoulders and the difference they have made to me has been indescribable.
“Art takes me on a journey and whilst I am on that journey, all I am thinking about is art. It takes me away from thinking about my challenges. It allows me respite from the stress of dealing with my PTSD.”
The Army Arts Society was set up by war artist Linda Kitson after the Falklands War. It promotes and supports arts and crafts within the British Army, working with both serving and veteran members of the Armed Forces. The inspiration for Martin’s painting came from his struggles coming to terms with his PTSD diagnosis.
The initial focus of the painting is red tears, set within an eye glass of a periscope.
Martin explained: “Just as a periscope restricts the viewer to a rather narrow field of view, I found that I too had become fixated on a limited range of issues surrounding my injury. My prolonged bouts of despair brought about by intense and disturbing rumination about my condition, recovery, future employment and wellbeing became a never ending story playing and replaying in my mind.
“I have now started to look and explore other areas. This is depicted by a blue window and the surrounding sunshine in the rest of the painting.”
Army Arts Society judge Emma Stibbon said the artwork had a “compelling composition”.
“It was extraordinary not only as a conceptually moving piece of work but also the level of finish and rendering of the painting was fantastic,” she said.
“I was really overwhelmed to win,” Martin explained. “Art is such a personal thing and to find that others appreciate your work is surprising and humbling. I had a big smile on my face and it’s really encouraged me to continue with my Art and complete the City and Guilds qualification.”
At Help for Heroes Recovery Centre Tedworth House, wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women can take part in a variety of art classes including one-to-one sessions with art teacher, Jenny Arthy.
“What we offer them is complete freedom; they can paint, draw, and sculpt: poetry has also found its place amongst the paintings,” said Jenny.
“Having the opportunity to work freely enables untapped talents to emerge. It is a great confidence booster to find out that they can achieve something they never thought possible.
“I've seen people walk into the art room head down without eye contact and with no wish to communicate. With the ease of the atmosphere they grow more confident and come out of their shell.
“To quote one man 'when I came in here my heart was in my boots but when I had paint on my hands and a canvas to put it on, I felt I had helium in my lungs and I could breathe again'
“For a few hours they can switch off from all the problems resettlement brings, enjoy the company and have fun I am constantly amazed by the extraordinary talents that surface and it's just as wonderful to see their spirits rise.”