Onwards and Upwards

New Wickford Art Association show reflects on veterans’ experiences at war

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“We’re looking at art here as a way of providing some communication about what the experience was and allowing for conversation to occur,” says Paul Murray, manager of the new Journeys Onward exhibit at the Wickford Art Association. The show sets out to honor artwork that deals with the subject of war. The pieces are all made by local artists who are also veterans themselves, or who have family members who served.

Paul’s interest in the subject stems from an exhibit he helped put together at the VETS Memorial Auditorium three years ago, which put a spotlight on local veteran artists. There, he noticed that many attendees would pass through the galleries and feel “amazingly touched by the work.” Some would comment on how certain pieces would remind them of loved ones who served, and others, Paul says, would ask him: “Does this really have to end?” Observing how art and storytelling would bring total strangers together, he decided that it didn’t have to. Since then, he’s curated shows similar to that first VETS exhibit, bringing a bevy of veteran artists to galleries across the state and even to New London, the home of the United States Coast Guard Academy.

Speaking with Paul and his immersion in the subject matter feels like accessing an archive filled with stories about the lingering effects of Agent Orange, family members hoping that their loved ones would return, and community activism. Journeys Onward is a way of building on the framework that the previous exhibits created, adding to the archive. It incorporates pieces that have been included in past exhibits, but also includes newer ones that the Wickford Art Association selected through a recent call for submissions.

This exhibit pairs artists’ personal statements alongside their work, to help make an indescribable experience visible, relaying local stories while also gesturing towards a national community. For Paul, shows such as this one has “a real impact on the community.”

Journeys Onward runs from May 17th through June 16th.