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Vietnam veteran art displays in LA

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Correction: The Vietnam veteran’s name is Rick McCarty. 

A 15-year-old girl’s head is on a stake. A man holds Wild Bill while he bleeds out after shooting himself in the heart. Chico sits by a tree and overdoses on heroin.

The images were drawn by Rick McCarty, a veteran who died Aug. 23 at age 61, and are currently on display on the second floor of the Liberal Arts building.

“These are real people,” said Deb Burdick, McCarty’s friend.

The young girl, who McCarty befriended in a Vietnam village, was named Mimi, Burdick said.

McCarty was forced to watch Mimi’s ears being cut off before her head was put on a stake, Burdick said.

Wild Bill and Chico were McCarty’s friends during the war, and both of them died.

McCarty, a Mount Vernon native, served in the Vietnam War in 1971. He began drawing in 1999 to express himself.

His drawings are a type of art called outsider art, which just means McCarty had no professional training.

“He began drawing because he wanted to tell people what really happened in Vietnam,” Burdick said.

Burdick said McCarty suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a mental health condition that some people experience after going through a traumatic event. Spells or flashbacks can be triggered at any time following such an event, like a car accident or serving in a war.

When Burdick went with McCarty to art shows, people would come up to McCarty and tell him that he nailed it, and similar things happened to other veterans, she said.

Burdick said she first met McCarty when she took a different path in her neighborhood and saw him chain smoking and drawing.

“He was drawing on small pieces of paper with a pencil,” she said. “I was the one who encouraged him to draw in color and draw bigger.”

His art was draw over a span of eight years, Burdick said.

“This is somebody’s nightmare,” Burdick said. “War is not a cartoon. It’s not a videogame – it’s real.”

Social Work Associate Professor Vaughn DeCoster visited McCarty’s display.

DeCoster is also a war veteran.

“(McCarty’s pictures) are graphic, but words only do so much,” he said. “You talk about pictures being worth a thousand words, but sometimes they are worth 10,000.”

He said veterans can express themselves “more freely” through drawing or taking photos.

“When we write or speak, we tend to edit ourselves too much,” he said. “We don’t let things come out as naturally.”

He said the pictures are graphic and “gross.”

“(Outsider art) is a very healthy process, and it’s very emotional,” he said. “I think our culture needs to be a little more open, a little more patient and want to listen more.”

A common inaccuracy, DeCoster said, is when people believe that drawing or painting wars, or even talking about trauma, can worsen the effects of PTSD.

DeCoster said the National Center for PTSD recommends exposure therapy for PTSD because exposing oneself to the event repeatedly will eventually cause it to lose the effect.

“I’m afraid it’s like hitting yourself with a hammer,” he said. “It’s going to hurt. When you put people in harm’s way or ask them to do something, like go to war, it’s a natural consequence. Like hitting yourself with hammer, no matter what you do, you’ll still have a bruise.”

DeCoster said the pictures are “childlike,” yet very detailed, but that’s fine because it’s a way for McCarty to have expressed himself.

“I think they need to be shown because we don’t know those who were moved by it,” DeCoster said

There are 150 of McCarty’s pieces displayed at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago.

The McCarty’s art display will be on the second floor of the Liberal Arts building until Oct. 30.

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University of Southern Indiana's student publication
Vietnam veteran art displays in LA