For many veterans who are returning home from service, PTSD is inescapable. It can be debilitating and create a world of isolation. Paintru CEO & Co-Founder JD Kameen spoke with Iraq Veteran Jason Turner about how he channels flashbacks and emotions that cannot be put into words through his artwork. Jason served over four years in the U.S. Army including a tour in Iraq. During this time Jason received numerous awards for his bravery and intelligence. As a veteran artist painting with CAVARTS, a community of veteran artists, Jason specializes in military paintings and portraiture in oil.
In this week’s The Art of War release, we learn more about how Jason Turner uses his lifelong artistic talent as a unique coping mechanism. This also allows him to continue to serve his community of veterans and active military members by creating art that establishes meaningful personal connections.
An Interview With 9/11 National Arts Winning Jason Turner
Life and Artistic Background
JD Kameen- Can you tell me about what that means, “Somebody always having your six”– a military term for having your back. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means, to you both as an artist, a veteran, a young man, you know, all that stuff.
Jason Turner- I like to say, “someone always has your six.” As you know, I have a military background and I always felt supported by my brothers and sisters in arms. If something significant happened while I was in service, I felt so much support from other members of the military it helped me get through really difficult things.
JD Kameen– Yeah, I love how you phrase that. So this phrase “someone always has your six” now inspires your artwork?
Jason – Yes, absolutely. I had people that hardly knew who I was while in the Army, and if I was having a bad day, I mean, they always had my back and you simply can’t match that feeling. So I took that moniker, and that inspired these pieces.
JD –Man, I love that. Where are you from originally?
Jason – I’m really from New Orleans. But you know, Army guy so all over.
JD – Okay, cool. I’m a couple hours, uh, east of you in Pensacola, Florida. So you grew up in New Orleans?
Jason – Yeah and that too has impacted my artwork through the years. The city speaks to me a lot.
JD – When did you first realize that you had some wildly impressive artistic skills? How did that come about?
Jason – I have a twin brother and we were always competitive growing up. So early on, we competed in everything we did. This also led to us competing to develop art skills when we were young. It blossomed from there.
JD – Oh really? Wow.
Jason – For us, being twins, we are always trying to outdo the other. So, once we started getting, um, I guess some complimentary feedback on our artwork for 6, 7, 8 years old, we stuck to it.
JD – What initially got you actually interested in artwork though? So you found out you had the skill, but was it just a competitive drive trying to outdo your brother or like what really was like this is something I’m interested in?
Jason – Initially it was actually the competitive nature of it. It was that competitive drive. I didn’t know anything about color, spectrum, color theory or anything like that. But I want to say maybe sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, you start having actual art classes. I decided to take it and became really intrigued, became totally enveloped in classes and art history drove me toward a little bit of abstract exposure and all the types of arts and artists out there. And that’s when I really, really ingrained my thoughts in art.
Artistic Approach and Inspiration
JD – I’d love to hear, from your perspective, how do you approach a project? How do you approach any project that you’re working on?
Jason – Most of my military paintings are actually personal, uh, it’s not a permission piece. I had nightmares for three months. It just flashed in my head after I returned from the Middle East and I try to put those images on canvas. “I got your six” is actually a self-portrait of me in my camouflage, my bio, my desert uniform. And it has images of “I got your six.” I’m praying for those Outlaws, for those that are still serving.
I was military intelligence. So I like to tie in old 1950 forties posters that most military bases have above their sinks and water fountains too. It’s just little things like that I take into my approach with me because those old images resonate with so many service members.
JD – What does the creative and development process look like? Do you physically look through old photos that you have, do you kind of relive memories? How do you get all of that creativity from your head onto canvas, that can be incredibly challenging? Did you take notes while you served for pieces later on?
Jason – It’s a collection of things. I did sketches while I served, not notes. So I frequently reference my sketchbook, my sketch pad. For instance, this piece I’ll send you, it’s simply an interpretation from tattoos I saw on other military veterans. So I’ll get inspiration from a tattoo and I’ll take that tattoo and I’ll say, “okay, can I integrate this into a piece?” I get inspiration from other artists too, that’s an important part of growth. I love that. I’ll do things like that for almost every piece.
JD – Are these veteran artists or other civilian artists, you know, is it like a community of military veteran artists?
Jason – The surprising thing is, I don’t know too many veteran artists. There are even fewer modern artists that are also veterans. I think a lot of veteran artists actually were inspired by George Bush and his art pieces. Life-sized portraits and I feel like George Bush has a portrait style that resonates. I’m glad there are other platforms like Paintru and CAVARTS now that connect us artists in a community.
One of Paintru’s big initiatives this year is to contact as many military veteran artists as we can because there’s so much work to be done, so many companies are interested in commissioning pieces from a vet military veteran.
JD – Do you paint in a studio? Where do you paint? What does that look like? How did you design your studio?
Jason – My studio is actually in my home office here. I designed my studio with objects from my military background. So I have my plaques and my awards hanging up. A mural of my twin brother and I have his flag right next to that and just brushes all around it.
JD – What’s your favorite thing to paint?
Jason Turner- All things military. Because I’m putting a little bit of me into every piece and it’s always a little more personal. It’s different when I’m painting, for instance, an NFL commissioned painting for someone [or] when I’m doing a celebrity, as opposed to someone that served in the military or like a drill instructor, you know, I’m paying homage to the instructor. I can connect with them. Like, I want to say I’m always 150% my military paintings. I’m not saying I don’t do the same thing with the sports commissions, but it just, it just means a lot more when I’ve been there.
Life After the Military and the Role Art Plays in This Transition
JD – What is the creative energy like for you where you live now?
Jason – I just moved to Houston last spring. I’m still working on finding my creative community here. It can be hard for veterans to rebuild communities when they get out of the military. Even when we would get orders to a new duty station, we just had so much in common a community feeling was instant.
JD – I’m going to ask you a string of questions, they may seem cliche but just interested in your opinion.
What’s the best part of being a military veteran?
Jason – So when I got out of the military, I was scared. And when, I mean, I was scared, I was really scared of the transition from the military world to the civilian world. And honestly I’m still not a hundred percent there. But even now, when I see another veteran I know what they’re going through to a certain extent. I just feel comfortable being in another veteran’s presence as opposed to say my brother-in-law that was not in the military. I still don’t feel a hundred percent comfortable. Think about how lucky we are to have the veteran community, so many people long for that.
JD – What’s the hardest part of being a military veteran?
Jason – Flashbacks. I can’t control it. It just comes in. When I was in Iraq on the first patrol there it was taxing, now I’m experiencing those feelings sometimes when I drive through the streets of Houston. Like it’s something traumatic is going to happen even though, you know, it’s not, sometimes it still feels like I’m on my first patrol.
JD – How did being an artist make your transition from active duty easier?
Jason – It’s like having a psychiatrist without having a psychiatrist. If that makes sense. It’s like the canvas is listening to me and there’s no judgment from say, a person I can put anything on the canvas, and sometimes it actually gives me feedback.
JD – Do you wish there was a bigger focus on artwork in the military?
Jason – They actually have artists serving in the military that kind of have a dual responsibility as artists. I didn’t know about that. I wish there was more publicity, more coverage on that.
JD – What makes you hopeful for other veterans transitioning out in 2021, versus when you had to transition out 16 years ago?
Jason – I mean now, mental health is on every commercial. We talk so much about those things now, especially with intense jobs like firefighters, police officers etc. Society is more accepting now, just think about Vietnam Veterans, they especially didn’t have that support. I am so thankful we do now.
Jason entered active military service with the U.S. Army, on April 16, 2001. He attended Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Advanced Individual Training at Goodfellow Air Force Base (San Angelo), Texas, where he was awarded the MOS 98C, Signal Intelligence Analyst. Turner’s assignment(s) include D Co. & B Co., 312th Military Intelligence Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (1CD) Fort Hood, Texas.
Turner deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom I/II, while attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team 1CD, in 2004. Turner’s end of service was August 16, 2005, as an SPC/E4.
After leaving active duty service Jason continues to find strength within his community at Cavarts and through his understanding of other servicemembers, creates art in a way that resonates with the community. He is hopeful for future veterans and thankful for the ongoing discussion on mental health. To follow and support Jason on his journey to healing and helping others do the same, please visit his website and Instagram.