Veteran copes with memories, finds a release through art
Every artist has his favorite medium. For Jon Hancock, 30, that medium is spray paint. The Maryland artist — whose art goes on display on Veterans Day in an exhibit at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago — purchases dozens of cans in different colors.
“Let’s use this one,” Mr. Hancock said in his backyard art studio, picking up a yellow can.
When he pushes down on the knob of his can, he not only releases paint but 10 deployments’ worth of military memories.
One of those military memories was when he first killed a man, in Iraq.
“We were in Ramadi in 2004,” Mr. Hancock said. “I turned the corner and he was there. He had [a rocket-propelled grenade]. He was getting ready to sling up on his shoulder, and I, just [fired] seven, eight rounds from the groin right to the neck.”
For eight years, Mr. Hancock served as a Marine, working a variety of assignments in reconnaissance.
He said he eventually became an interrogator and source handler, working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
Mr. Hancock said his deployments now serve as an inspiration for his artwork.
“I’m a huge fan of Van Gogh,” Mr. Hancock said. “Art has always just been really cool to me, and I’ve always enjoyed anybody that goes outside the box with it.”
Like Van Gogh, Mr. Hancock is plagued by his own demons, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the result of what he said was being exposed to multiple roadside-bomb explosions and concussions.
“I have really vivid and imaginative nightmares, and they’re really crazy,” Mr. Hancock said. “Every night is a wake up in cold sweat. My sleep pattern’s off. I don’t sleep a lot. Maybe an hour or two a day.”
He joined the Marine Corps in May 2001, but
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those painful memories didn’t start until his second Iraq deployment.
“Once you kill somebody, it happens,” Mr. Hancock said. “Afterwards, you think about it, and whatever you do that day stays with you your entire life, because it’s such a raw environment. It’s so absolutely chaotic and violent.
“… It’s just so bad that it sears itself into your memory, and that’s what happens every time.”
Also seared into his memory are the deaths of his brothers-in-arms.
“I never went to most of the graves of most of the guys, and that’s kinda how I dealt with it,” Mr. Hancock said. “It’s sad when it happens and you cry a lot. … And then you justify it with, ‘He was at war.’ And you say, ‘He was a hero.’ ”
“I guess the mourning process is constant. It’s an everyday thing for me,” he said.
Returning home, Mr. Hancock said he began drinking heavily.
“I drink to sleep, and that becomes a problem because I’m probably an alcoholic, but functioning nonetheless,” he said, adding that alcohol quells his nightmares and allows him to fall asleep. What saved him was his artwork. “I used to mourn by just drinking,” Mr. Hancock said. “But I guess how I mourn now is through proactive initiatives to attempt to give people information about what a veteran’s going through.”
When he does mourn, he creates his masterpieces.
“I just allow for the art to dictate where it wants to go, because who am I to question what it is that I’m trying to say, when I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to say.”