Art and Trauma: The Soldier Art Workshop

©Art Therapy Alliance

©Art Therapy Alliance

Art may not be the first therapeutic tool that comes to mind when treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it has proven to be effective and is being used in a number of places to help returning soldiers. In El Paso, a new collaborative project called the Soldier Art Workshop Program will be launched by the El Paso Art Association in March. The volunteer effort brings local artists together with area soldiers and their families and is designed to teach art to the soldiers as they “make the transition to normal military and family life after deployment.” Twelve workshops will be held at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Fort Bliss Family Center over the course of a year. They will focus on visual arts, including oil and watercolor painting, mixed-media encaustics, and digital photography.

Arts organizations participating in the Soldier Art Workshop Program include the El Paso Museum of Art, Plein Air Painters of El Paso, the Pastel Society of El Paso, and Rio Bravo Watercolorists. Military sponsorship has been provided by Ft. Bliss MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation), the Warrior Transition Battalion, and the Ready & Resilience Center. Among the El Paso artist volunteers are Jan Wisbrun Dreher, Krystyna Robbins, Julie Caffee-Cruz, Nina Walker, Ben Avant, Pat Olchefski-Winston, Darrell McGahhey, Jimmie Bemont, Ron Fritsch, Melinda Etzold, and Rami Scully.

These artists are in good company in using art with returning soldiers. A National Geographic cover story this month, “How Art Heals the Wounds of War” by Andrea Stone, reported on an art therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, which had soldiers making masks revealing an aspect of their experience. Melissa Walker, an art therapist who works with veterans at Walter Reed, said the program started in 2010 to help returning injured service men and women. “We needed to look for additional types of treatment,” Walker said. “At the time, I’m not so sure people understood the impact it would have, (but after) a very short time, it became clear [they] were taking to art therapy.”

Jackie Biggs, a 2013 masters graduate from George Washington University’s Columbian College Art Therapy Program, was given a National Endowment for the Arts grant to “integrate art therapy into treatment for active-duty military patients at Fort Belvoir,” one of the first in the country to focus on the area of art therapy for trauma victims. That treatment has now become a standard component of the hospital’s patient/soldier protocol. Biggs believes it’s been effective because “this is a group that tends to internalize their trauma; they hope it will go away if they don’t talk about it.” But swallowing trauma like that can lead to depression, abuse, or suicide, whereas art therapy can “give them a voice when words aren’t there.”

Another program that has received national recognition is Operation Oak Tree, run by the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) in Chicago. Operation Oak Tree utilizes art therapy and the creative arts to help military families from the time of pre-mobilization and deployment through reintegration. It gained the attention of Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden when it was part of a presentation made in June where Dr. Biden was touring to promote an initiative she’s promoting with First Lady Michelle Obama to mobilize all sectors of society to give members of the armed forces and their families opportunities and support.

The new El Paso program has the potential to serve as an affordable model in this vein because it encourages the local arts community to serve as a conduit for supporting soldiers and their families at a very difficult time.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Japanese influenced painting: Bertille Baudiniere

Bertille de Baudinière, Painter

Bertille de Baudinière has distinguished herself and her work during her creative career with an aesthetic practice on three continents – specifically in Japan, USA and Europe – through its diverse nature and the integration of social issues in her art.

She discovered Japanese art, especially sumi-e and abstraction during her studies in the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris 1979-1982 . She was looking for a way to get out of Western culture. “I wanted to go as far away as possible. The Far East fascinated me in its approach to the abstract, it’s totally different spirit, its analysis of space and its taste for simplicity. I enrolled in Japanese language and literature courses and in 1986 obtained a research grant from the Japanese government studying the influence of occidental techniques used by Japanese artists.” She discovered space and simplicity (“two specific Japanese ideas”) and it became her golden rule until now.

The series that followed, Green Earth, 1989-1990, owes its title to a Nihonga pigment of the same name. Symbolic of the link that unites man and nature, Green Earth celebrates the cosmic dimension of Japanese Buddhism; the essential idea that man and the smallest blade of grass are both part of a whole.

The artist did not return to Europe right away. “The weight of the past is too heavy there; to create you must turn your back on the past.” She decided to expand her research to the United States. The earth of the Plains and of the native Americans inspired the second series of twenty paintings entitled Red Earth, 1991, with vast, deep, monochromed spaces irradiated with light.

In Paris 1993-2006 her return to France also marked her return to casein. Enriched by her experiences, she pursued her work on various series of paintings, convinced of the need to explore, test and clarify: Ecrans-Lumière, 1995-1998, Painting by numbers in 1999 (In response to the digital invasion, she covered her paintings with the numerals 0 and 1, retaining from the binary language the idea of combinations that tend towards the infinite), Planètes, 1999-2000, Voilages, 2001, Light-screen, 2001, Chênes-lièges, 2002-2003, Painting by letters, 2004, Blue Earth, 2005-2007.

In 2008, she decided to come back to the United States and live in New York with her family. Bertille de Baudinière found a studio in an artist community in Long Island City.  Since 2008 she has painted the series New York light and a huge American flag, Skype, a series of portraits about the internet, Colorimetry using wood sticks and color filters,  Harlem and some views of the city from above and, finally, Green Earth 2012.  She experiments with new techniques and uses different mediums in order to explore recurring themes in the work. This keeps it new and exciting, which is evident in her current Green Earth paintings.

The work is colorful, vibrant and powerful. Baudinière uses acrylic and casein, color filters, natural pigments, wood, piano strings, and a variety of found objects in her paintings, mixed-media works and assemblages.

My eye is always attracted by new and different materials, both natural and recycled. Sometimes I use these materials in my paintings, such as the natural sponges in my recent Green Earth series. At other times the material becomes a medium itself, such as the discarded wood lattice with which I made the Colorimetry series. With the help of these various materials I try to create constructions in which matter is transformed into light.

Bertille de Baudinière was born in Saint Malo, France. She received her diploma from Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Paris in 1982. In 1986, she was granted a research scholarship by the Japanese government and was enrolled as a Master scholar at the National University of Music and Arts in Tokyo. She received her MFA in 1990.

Baudinière has exhibited nationally and internationally including Islip Art Museum, US, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, US, Hainan National Museum, China, Tomura Gallery, Japan, Fondation des Etats-Unis, France, Zurdorfer Wehrturm Museum, Germany, Galerie Arte Noah, Germany and Dalian, China.

She has been granted residencies, given lectures, curated special exhibits and designed sets throughout the world and has created several videos.

Baudinière’s work is in the collection of Museum of Landau, Germany, Fondation Danielle Mitterand, Le GNG, l’Energie pour demain,  Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Queensborough Community College, and Fondation des Etats-Unis. Her work has been shown in Le Monde Diplomatique, Beaux arts magazine, Art Press, Editions Unesco, Nice-Matin, Omaha World Herald, and Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger.

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