A New Definition of Artistic Freedom
At our most recent Chicago Veterans Art Initiative one of our Veteran members, Adam Navarro, displayed and sold his artwork for the very first time as an artist. When chatting with Adam prior to and during the event, we realized he had a deep backstory that drives the beauty and purpose of his work. We learned that Adam first discovered art as a form of therapy in 2009, using it to help him address and heal from the trauma he faced in war.
Getting to Know Adam’s Art Through His Service
Adam is a US Army Combat Veteran, having served from 2000 to 2003 in the Military Police and as part of the 101st Airborne Division. He was deployed to Kosovo, where his primary role was patrolling and clearing for investigators at crime scenes. This duty came with darkness for Adam, as he saw some unspeakable scenes that unfortunately made their way back home with him. His very first scene being a suicide, set the stage for what his work would be for the foreseeable future. He described his reaction to this experience. “I realized that this was more than what I was trained to do… I felt numb, and the numbness was very unnatural, like it was based on terror and fear. Seeing strangers dying or dead — it was a god-awful feeling — but I knew that I had to silence that fear and be a soldier. It was a jarring reality check into the next 2.5 years.”
Addressing the Trauma
Though it took about 6 years after coming home, Adam did eventually start addressing his PTSD with art therapy and initially kept it very private. “I didn’t really tell people or family for years, I was in the closet about being an artist. I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing to people I was painting.” Though recently, Adam has gone through what he defines as a “creative journey or phase the last few years, something was pushing me to spend more time developing my painting skills, and I’ve noticed myself getting into a deeper creative zone.” During that journey, Adam began sharing his work and his desire to grow as an artist with those close to him.
Understanding Adam’s Artistic Process
When we asked Adam more about how painting heals him, he began to disclose his artistic process, part of which has been impacted and transformed by his yoga practice. “For me it’s connecting myself as a being with a collection of thoughts, experiences and memories. I try to connect my past experiences from life or other inspiring notions I’ve sought through a reflective process. It takes mindfulness, connections, relaxation, and discipline — it’s like a workout — or climbing a mountain. I feel healed, and exhausted in a good way.”
Completing the Process by Exposing his Work
This final step of Adam’s process; curating and exposing his work to an audience. This event gave him the opportunity to share and let go of some of his work, in a way he really appreciated. “Having an event put on by a well-respected organization of veterans for veterans was special. It creates a sense of credibility and integrity, where you can count on this overwhelming feeling appreciation. Had it not been for this opportunity, and the team at Chicago Veterans, this amazing event would not have happened and I would not have gone.”
While we were thrilled this event opened up an opportunity for Adam, we wanted to know more about what he hopes people get out of his art, especially as he begins to increase its exposure. “I hope for those who see my art, that there’s some sort of exchange of knowledge and understanding between the person and the piece. I saw this happen with the woman who purchased ‘La Fantasma y La Luna.’” She understood what I was sharing and everything that came through in the painting.” Adam went on to talk about how even a negative reaction could still be a connection a person makes with his art, and an opportunity to understand and learn how his work is digested by others.
Advice to Other Veterans
Given Adam’s success at the Chicago Veterans Art Initiative his first time ever displaying his work, we wondered if he had any advice to other veteran artists who are nervous about completing their artistic process and exposing their own work. He left us with another powerful answer.
“Get it out there! The Chicago Veterans team is a great resource, they have a nose for veteran artists. Pay attention to the nudges you are getting to share your art. You are creating things that others can get something out of too. So be open and prepared for those reactions and their feedback — That is the real treasure in events like these. Lastly, I can’t say enough about how organizations like Chicago Veterans are healthy for the veteran community especially if you are an artist and ready to move forward. “
We are so grateful to Adam for his service, his participation in our Art Initiative, and willingness to share his story. Come out to our next Art Initiative event to see work by Adam and other veteran artists!