Arts preview: Shawn Auguston: ‘Post-Traumatic Expression’

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
[Photo by Rob Hardin]

As a U.S. Army Reservist, Shawn Auguston wore and saw a lot of camouflage gear. As a painter, Auguston uses those colors and patterns in subtle ways to help him give a voice to some not-so-subtle things. In between, Auguston camouflaged the affect his 18-month deployment in Iraq from 2006-2008 doing convoy security was having on him and his family.

“Driving down the road, I didn't stop at red lights for a while. I was keeping my intervals like I would in a convoy. My wife's like, ‘The light turned red!' and I was like, ‘I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking,” Auguston recalled during an interview at a Downtown coffee shop. “With my friends, we'd kind of joke about ‘phantom rifle,' when you're driving [and] looking or reaching for your rifle.”

Nightmares, sleepwalking and other behavior disconnected from his current reality led to an incident where the police came to the family's home. One of the officers had done military service, recognized what was happening and recommended to Auguston's wife that they take him to the hospital.

“It wasn't bad or dangerous, just me not being me,” Auguston said, adding that he did later attempt suicide twice. “But in the hospital they started talking to me about [post-traumatic stress disorder] and anxiety.”

“In the Army, you learn, ‘Suck it up and move on,' and I had that attitude of, ‘OK, this is something you just gotta deal with,'” he said.

What Auguston didn't have were tools to help him. In therapy, he was asked to make a collage from images found in a magazine. It started him on a journey of expression through a variety of mediums.

“I started painting pretty pictures of places I wanted to be. I was learning how to use the materials, but I was also figuring out how to say what I was feeling that I couldn't say with words,” Auguston said. “Something in that is what I needed to start talking about what I was feeling — kind of a bridge between what was going on [inside] and what I was trying to say. I learned that there are a lot of times things come out in art, things that happen subconsciously that you may not even realize.”

Auguston added street photography to his practice, and began to think of himself more as an artist who talked about the struggles of being a veteran rather than a veteran messing around with art in therapy.

“I'm to the point where I can advocate not just for myself but for others,” said Auguston, whose work is on exhibit at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery, a program of Southeast Health Services, through Nov. 9, and will be featured during Southeast's annual Art of Recovery benefit event that same day.

Fresh A.I.R Gallery

Through Nov. 9

131 N. High St., Downtown

‘Post-Traumatic Expression’