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Iraq veteran treats PTSD through art

Shawn Augustson posing in front of “Three Trees” at the Fresh A.I.R. Gallery on Sept. 17. Credit: Tristan Relet-Werkmeister | Lantern Reporter

A former soldier recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder currently has his artistic work on display at the Fresh A.I.R. Gallery — which stands for Artists in Recovery.

Shawn Augustson joined the U.S. Army following the 9/11 attacks and fought for 18 months in  the Iraq War. When he returned in 2006, he was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and major depressive disorder.

“His work is powerful and compelling. I feel empathy,” said Fresh A.I.R Gallery manager Lauren Pond.

Despite having no formal art education, the recovering former soldier turned to painting and photography to help him heal. He still has weekly appointments with a psychiatrist, but says he is slowly recovering. He was able to reduce his dosage of medication in the past year.

“It’s a daily battle that I’m fighting,” Augustson said.

In his nature landscape paintings, Augustson hangs the same camouflage pattern of his former uniforms in the gallery. Even though it was unintentional, the artist agrees that this could suggest he is always seeing his environment through the lens of his traumatic experience.

“Right now, I’m trying to get ‘me’ back in me,” Augustson said.

Augustson said he is trying to be more subtle with his patterns as he grows by using fewer strong shapes. This is prevalent in the most recent painting in his series, “Camouflage Landscapes,” that has less distinguishable camouflage patterns.

“For a long time, I isolated [myself] in the house where it was safe,” Augustson said. “For ‘Tall Pines,’ I painted it in the park, live. Being out in nature and on location brings out a lot of good feelings.”

The painter abstractly portrayed himself in “Post-Traumatic Expression,” using only gray, black and a bit of red. The last color represents the life that was left inside him, and also can be perceived as the wounds he still suffers.

“It’s the first time I was able to express things that were inside me onto the canvas; it was a starting point for me,” Augustson said about the painting “A War Within.”

Augustson painted another series, which, at first sight, seems disconnected from the rest of his work. It consists of four paintings, each depicting a pair of ballet slippers — a poetic and soulful metaphor.

“They look beautiful when you look at them, but people who do ballet suffer a lot of pain,” Augustson said.

His works are exhibited at Fresh A.I.R., a gallery that has been committed to displaying the works of artists suffering from substance abuse disorders or mental illness since 2004. Its mission is to reduce the public’s stigma surrounding these diseases through art.

Augustson heard about the gallery from a friend and reached out to Pond, to whom he sent art samples.

Pieces of art, including one of Augustson’s paintings, will be auctioned off on Nov. 9 at the Art of Recovery fundraiser at the Columbus Museum of Art. The sales will benefit the Fresh A.I.R. Gallery.

“Post-Traumatic Expression” is on display until Nov. 9 at the Fresh A.I.R. gallery, located at 131 North High St. Admission is free.

 

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