Student Veteran Uses Art as Outlet

Majoring in studio art, John Campbell, 28, is a veteran who served in the Marine Corps for six years. Like many others at UMKC, Campbell is non-traditional student. For him, the chance to see his art displayed at the UMKC Gallery of Art’s 2017 UMKC Student Exhibition, is a milestone of his progress since leaving the service and being diagnosed with PTSD. The exhibition, beginning on April 27, will showcase the work of 18 undergraduates and graduates selected by guest juror Lynnette Miranda. For the chosen artists like Campbell, this opportunity is meaningful in a number of ways.

“This [art] has been a big therapy,” Campbell said. “The teachers have convinced me art is emotion, and I really need to tap into the emotions I have.”

Campbell originally came to UMKC the fall of 2015, but his disability caused him to take time off. After coming back in the fall of 2016, Campbell finally started getting eyes on his work and was strongly encouraged to show his art on a larger scale to prepare for the business world. This exhibit will give him a taste for that world in addition to the vast progress he has made in the mere year he has been back at UMKC.

“$1000 in school credit is up for grabs,” Campbell said. There will be a first, second, and third place for both the undergrads and graduates. Additionally, the art displayed will be for sale to the public, and UMKC will not be taking a cut of the profits.

By investing himself in his art career, Campbell is not walking away from his past. Rather, he is embracing it.

“In the art community there’s not very many veteran artists,” Campbell said. “[My professors] just said that’s one thing I have up on the competition. It’s just, I have something new to bring. And I mean, art has always been a thing I’ve done, but through other people’s words it slowly became a realization that I could do this as a career.“

His excitement at his the prospect of winning comes from the fact that he feels there is a stereotype about veterans only being able to keep jobs in security and the police force once they end their contract.

His piece that was selected for display, Abyss, draws inspiration from his time in training.

Abyss by Artist John Campbell was selected to be displayed at the upcoming student art exhibit.

Abyss by Artist John Campbell was selected to be displayed at the upcoming student art exhibit.

“One of my biggest fears is sharks,” Campbell said. “Frankly, ever since they took us six miles off shore and kicked us off a raft to make us swim back to shore. Ever since I hit the water, I had this phobia.“

After the other trainees had been dropped off into the ocean, Campbell still refused to get in the water. Finally, he was forced off 400 meters farther out than his peers.

“I looked like Flipper trying to catch up,” he said. The whole time swimming in, Campbell said he kept thinking about someone lagging behind and being picked off. Since then, he’s had nightmares and thoughts about sharks and the ocean itself.

“Basically the ocean…you look into it, and there’s nothing. It goes blue, blue, dark blue, then just black…it’s the most undiscovered place in the world.”

“Everyone wants to figure out why,” Campbell said. “Why am I scared of it? Why is this freaking me out? So I had the idea to make the shark coming out of the darkness, and because everyone always questions their biggest fears, that’s when I started the idea of breaking it apart.”

After many sketches, the end result came into being. He completed the project using only pencil and fixative.

Although many of Campbell’s pieces have military influence, he tries to stay away from having the viewer see it in a specific way.

“If they come to it and see that it has a military hand, or they have kind of the same reasoning as to why I made it, that’s alright,” Campbell said. “But I don’t tell them anything about it because they can get their own idea from it – that might have nothing to do with the military – and I like that. Like it’s me being able to recreate my identity.”

While Campbell is excited for this upcoming opportunity because of his personal progress, the financial possibilities, and preparation for the business world of art, those weren’t his number one reasons.

“I’m doing this for the veterans. To show veterans can do more, and when people see my work, it shows what the veteran society, what we, are capable of.”

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