In an art exhibit opening Nov. 11 veterans share their experience in combat without saying a word. The War Experience Project’s exhibit “inFORMATION” will settle in Tacoma for the next several months, sharing personal and powerful paintings from veterans throughout the nation.
Rick Lawson, an Iraq war veteran, started this project in 2008 when he was faced with incessant questioning about his year spent overseas.
“People ask a lot of ridiculous questions when they find out you’re a veteran,” he said.
Questions like, “What was it like? Did you kill anyone? Have you seen anyone die?” are the types of questions Lawson said he was sick of hearing, and would not answer.
“I don’t understand how people think it’s normal to ask that of a veteran. That’s why I painted on my uniform…I wanted to tell my story though my uniform.”
The response Lawson received from classmates who saw his work at Western Washington University led him to reach out to other veterans, who may find some peace and healing from painting as well.
“It was really an emotional experience for me to paint that. And very cathartic.”
Lawson began setting up painting workshops for other veterans to engage in artistic expression of their experiences.
In November 2008, Lawson began showing the work created through the War Experience Project throughout Washington, California, and in Canada and London.
The exhibition starting in Tacoma this week will be the largest to date, showing all 50 of the uniforms painted since 2008 with new additions as painting workshops continue throughout the duration of the event.
“A lot of our participants are first time painters. The military experience…gives them something really powerful to work with and the result of that is amazing.
“The uniform as a canvas doesn’t need explanation.”
Arranged in a military formation, spectators will be able to walk through the hanging pieces and get a glimpse of each individual’s time in service.
In addition to the gallery exhibition, people will be able to drop in and use the workshop area to create any sort of artwork or expressive work. There will even be an opportunity for civilians to paint garment bags, which will protect the uniforms as they travel from place to place as a symbol of their appreciation for veterans.
“People are welcome to come in and use the space. We’re not making it entirely about our project, but making it about the bigger picture, and allowing people to come in and do what they want to do.”
The War Experience Project will run through January in partnership with Spaceworks Tacoma. Lawson hopes to get enough of a response to continue the exhibition for a full six months, or even permanently.
“I would like this to be a permanent fixture in Tacoma,” he said. “I think it’s important to have a social space where military and civilians can come together, and come into this conversation through art.”
Spaceworks coordinator Rebecca Solverson noted she is excited for the unique exhibition to be opening in one of Spaceworks’ larger storefronts.
“We’ve never really had a group engage the military yet. It’s a great way to expand and bring a new audience in,” she said. “And this exhibit is so interactive and so positive… it’s exciting.”
War Experience Project will open Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. for gallery viewing and drop in painting throughout the day. At 4:30 p.m. local author and Vietnam Veteran Gary Prisk will read from his book “Digger Dogface Brownjob Grunt.”
From 6-10 p.m. Nov. 13, the War Experience Project will hold an artists reception for veterans who have contributed to the exhibit, many of whom painted at the last workshop in August at Tacoma Veterans Center. Work from veterans at Tacoma’s Veterans Center has never before been shown through the War Experience Project and will be unveiled for the first time opening day.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 20, veterans can participate in the exhibition’s first structured acrylic painting workshop.
The War Experience Project is located at 906 Broadway. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.