Artist of the Month James Meyer

Artist of the Month James Meyer

One Veteran’s Journey through PTSD

by April Sullivan 

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a significant mental health issue that affects many Veterans, and raising awareness about this topic is important. Our Artist of the Month for June 2023 is Air Force Veteran artist James Meyer. Jim got into photography in high school. It helped him divert from an early life of drinking and drug use. 

After high school, he attended Columbia College in Chicago where he began working toward a BFA in Photography. When he began dating a woman with terminal cancer, his life became turned upside down, and he dropped out of school with a semester left to go. He moved to California on a whim and spent ten years out there. 

Later, he moved back to Chicago and finished up his Bachelor’s degree. His focus was on documentary photography using a 4 x 5 camera. He went on to get an MFA in Photography and started focusing on storytelling and autobiographical work, such as a project where he photographed the home he grew up in. 

Always interested in flying planes, he joined the military during his time in California. He rejoined in 2003 and was deployed about 12 times over a 15 year period. He mounted a video camera behind his seat in the cargo plane he flew and recorded hundreds of hours of combat footage all over Iraq and the Middle East.

He was sober for many, many years until deployment number six. His mom passed away and he was unable to get back to see her. He began drinking again and was eventually kicked out of the military. When it got really bad, he finally went to the VA for help. At the VA, he was diagnosed with PTSD among other mental health issues, plus his substance use disorder.

After getting sober, he began thinking about art again. He dove back into the art world in 2022. Through a Google search, he found an artist residency hosted by CreatiVets at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He dove into the videos and photographs from his military experience, and began to work on pieces that answered the question of “What does it mean to be a Veteran?” This residency catapulted him into telling his story in a meaningful way.

I met Jim when he displayed some of his work at our Veteran exhibition in Wichita Falls, Texas. One example is this triptych, “So Now I’m A Veteran.”

A triptych of three side by side images of James. The first is a black and white photo that shows James unsmiling and surrounded by words such as, “lethargic, PTSD, drifting.” The second is half of the black and white unsmiling photo, merged with half of a smiling color photo. Here, James is surrounded by sentences such as, “I am a combat disabled veteran.” The third is the complete smiling color photo of James and features words such as, “sincere, capable, caring, pleasant.”

To see some of Jim’s current work, he is part of an exhibition titled “Mettle and Honor,” on view through June 23rd at the University of Houston Clear Lake. He is looking forward to more artist residencies and would like to work with Veterans in the future to help them tell their stories through art, video, and written word.

Jim’s current journey with PTSD is still a battle. He is currently not on medication, and is working through it with alternative therapies such as meditation and twelve step programs. The art helps, but can also take him to an emotional space if he dives too deep into the memories. He wants his art to open a door to allow others to have conversations about PTSD and addiction, and inspire them to tell their stories. 

We encourage you, during PTSD Awareness Month, to, like Jim, learn more about PTSD, spread awareness, and support Veterans in their journey towards recovery.

A photo of James posing with his triptych, “So Now I’m a Veteran.”

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