Robert Chambers came back from two tours of duty in the Middle East in 2003. It wasn’t long before he put ink to paper. It didn’t look so much like ink to him as it did flesh and blood.
“The first story I wrote [after returning] was called Odin, a 300-page graphic novel that is very rough, both in concept and execution,” Chambers says.
What: Bullets and Bandaids Vol. 2
Where: Wired Goat Vista, 709 Gervais St.
When: Thursday, Sept. 8, 5-9 p.m.
More: Facebook event page
Bullets and Bandaids is Chambers' latest project, an art show in which he’s given the canvas to others who share or were inspired by the military veteran experience. The genesis for these creations came from more than slathering paint. The works — which include sculptures, paintings and more — are expressions of stories told by those who served in combat. The exhibition and online auction will benefit Upstate Warrior Solution, a nonprofit that provides services to veterans.
Like his first work after returning stateside, Chambers is hoping Bullets and Bandaids can help veterans grapple with the troubles they face while keeping these issues and their solutions in the public’s eye.
“I'd just left the infantry and was filled with hate, loathing and violence, so that book [Odin] helped exorcise some of my demons.”
Free Times talked with Chambers about Bullets and Bandaids as well as war and art.
Have you personally seen how art can help lift folks back from an experience like war? Could you tell me about someone or yourself if so?
Absolutely. Not only have I experienced it firsthand, I've spoken with other veterans who mirrored this, opening up a dialogue they'd kept locked away. There's a weight lifted, a feeling of support where we were once taught to be islands unto ourselves. But man's a tribal animal. We need people to know us. And we need to break the stigma attached to those who have the courage to tell their stories.
This is a pretty unique concept, having veterans tell stories and artists depict them. How you’d come up with the idea and what kind of range of work does it bring?
I think the original idea was to raise money for Hidden Wounds, another local nonprofit that's veteran-centric. And I've also written a graphic novel about my time in, so I know the healing aspects of telling your story. But the true crux is that it ties everyone together through open communication as well as inspiration in the art presented. Every branch of the military has been represented as well, with people ranging from a private first class to a two-star general. And the artists have brought their best foot forward, coming together to form a show with strong voices, strong talent and a large variety of different media, from photography, sculpture, watercolor, pointillism [and more].
What’s one of the most striking pieces in this show to you? How does it deal with a soldier’s experience?
As the organizer, I'd be remiss to have a favorite piece. The truth is that each one of the artists involved has poured themselves into this show, bringing their own cultivated voice, perspective and talent. Given this variety, I believe the show is worth more than the sum of the pieces. Keep in mind that some of the artists are veterans themselves, so this is a melting pot of groups of people that often find themselves polarized. It not only points out that we're all in this together, it celebrates it.
In a way it's kind of like high-concept comic book creation which is a medium you’ve worked in before. Did putting together this show feel familiar to you in any way or was it all new?
I've grown up with comic books all my life, so the line between story and picture is very blurred for me. It just seemed to make sense. I'm still writing comic books and my stories tend to be visual, so in a real sense it wasn't "familiar" because I'd never left it. I wasn't reminded of my sequential art so much as simply continuing it. So in a word, yes.
If there’s one piece of art that depicts war in the truest way, what is that piece for you?
There's one piece that hits home on a personal level, not simply because of the quality of the piece, but because of where it originates. It's a black-and-white photograph of an American flag draped on legs in a manner of solemnity, feet worn from infantry life poking out beyond. This photograph was taken by a man named Christopher Pace, who was in my old company when I was in the Marine Corps. We lost some people in pretty terrible ways, so this hits me on a personal level.