Well-known Clark County Veteran Artist used art to cope with PTSD

Local News

NEILSVILLE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The transition from military service can be challenging especially for Veterans struggling with PTSD. First News at Nine’s Carla Rogner shares how a Clark County Veteran was able to take back his life after the Air Force through art.

“I am a professional artist and I live here in central Wisconsin. I have been doing this for about seven years professionally,” said artist, Shawn Ganther.

For Shawn Ganther, creating art is all about expressing himself.

“I print make, I paint do graphic design, screen print, t shirts. I fell in love with it all,” said Ganther.

The Clark County based artist spent five years serving in the air force. He says, he felt lost.

Ganther said, “Every Veteran I talk to that’s actually been able to re-integrate and live like a stable normal life especially with PTSD, 50% to 100% has found something to actually help them.”

For Shawn that thing was art.

“So I took a drawing class and in that class, I just finally started expressing myself. Things I could do with drawing that I didn’t want to talk about but I can put it on paper and my professor saw this and immediately pulled me out and said are you a veteran,” said Ganther.

“I just unleashed on this thing I was making these huge broad charcoal strokes across the thing. I had charcoal all over me and it was just coming out and I didn’t even know it was coming out but I guess he could deduce from that I had some sort of trauma I was dealing with,” said Ganther.

 Ganther confronted his PTSD.

Ganther said, “It just exploded out of me, I was painting and drawing, it was an endless supply of art like angry painting, sad, happy, I didn’t know what my voice was.”

Since then, his work has been shown at the National Veteran’s Museum, The Pentagon, and the Smithsonian.

Ganther said, “They had people submitting from all over the place and I happened to be one of fifty people who got accepted.”

He has participated in a documentary, Lionhearted showing at the Smithsonian and online.

“I got involved in that project and we traveled around the country interviewing veterans, talking about their past experiences and what they went through and how they actually cope,” said Ganther.

The film is intended to help other vets break down barriers and overcome trauma.

Ganther said, “I wasn’t an army ranger I was in the Air Force so I thought my trauma didn’t compare, that it wasn’t worth it, that I was just a weak individual because I had PTSD.”

“That is why the documentary is important to me because we have people from all branches of military service”

While figuring out what to do next, an idea popped into Ganther’s head.

“So I was standing in line to go see a movie and I am like I don’t want to see a superhero movie I want to see something about real heroes and I am like wait a minute.”

Now, he is showing off his newest exhibit, ‘Unmasked’ in his hometown.

Ganther said, “So I thought what if I reimagined past American Presidents as superheroes because number one when people see them they are going to wonder why Washington is Batman or why is Lincoln is Wolverine.”

Eventually Shawn hopes to find a new identity too.  

“Everything you look me up on says Shawn Ganther Veteran Artist and I am like oh that is great but I want to be a regular artist,” said Ganther.

However, he knows that part of his life will always have an influence on his work.

“Even the stuff on the walls behind me there is still a little of that inspiration there because it is about leadership,” said Ganther.

Ganther spends up to three hours a day in his studio, hoping to eventually create art full time.

“It is built into who I am I can’t not make art I can’t even function if I am not making art. I don’t know what to do,” said Ganther.

Picking up a paintbrush helped Ganther to pick up the pieces.

Ganther said, “As far as PTSD, stuff for people who see this and haven’t dealt with it yet it never really goes away completely. You still have those dreams but finding something like art or a different outlet like art you can wake up, you don’t have to suppress it anymore.”

Now he hopes to inspire others to do the same.

In Neillsville Carla Rogner WEAU 13 News.

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