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A new series of portraits honoring the service and sacrifice of our United States Veterans



A few years ago, I began to have a heightened sensitivity towards stories about returning veterans and the difficulty of re-entry into civilian life and our society.  It bothered me greatly, more than just the usual feelings of empathy, and I couldn’t figure out why.  Here were these young souls, enlisting in our armed forces for a myriad of their own reasons, bravely serving, and returning forever changed.  The narratives are pretty much the same.  They come back without the structure and mission of war to find themselves lost and alone, often struggling to integrate back into a disconnected and unrelatable world.  We all know these stories and the consequences that can come from them.


I had been working on a series of figures.  What was fascinating to me was not just the human body, but the conversations I would have with the models during the painting session.  The soul and psychology of the person sitting in front of me began to drive the work more than the actual flesh.  The paintings were large and life size.  I paint quickly all over the canvas, and I encourage the model to dialogue with me.  We talk about everything.  By the time I am considering the face, we are connected and the gaze, intimate.


I am not a veteran and I struggled with the feelings of being an interloper.  I wanted to paint what I was experiencing through them in this way but theirs is a private and sacred world, so there was fear that I might be asking too much; to trust me and be vulnerable with me.  I imagined though, that honoring them by “seeing” them might be a path to something for both of us.


I was talking to an Army buddy about the project and how deep my feeling was for it.  He asked me a simple question which immediately put everything into perspective, “So Dan, what is it that you are battling?”.  At that moment, I knew what was compelling me.  This is a most human and universal story.  We all have battles and many suffer from some sort of PTSD. 


I am grateful to these five friends for sharing themselves with me, and us.


Dan Bayless