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Gloucestershire Business News

VIDEO: Extraordinary art exhibition by former members of the armed forces

Rarely can an art exhibition and group of artist's also created such a groundswell of powerful emotion as the individuals behind an on-going show in Gloucester.

If you enjoy art - poetry, painting, sculpture, literature - and think it becomes all the more powerful when the people behind it have back-story out of the ordinary, then Art in the Aftermath has it in droves.

Resident here in Gloucester because of the support of city-based businesswoman and menswear designer, Emma Willis MBE, the exhibition celebrates the work of former servicemen and women injured or affected by combat.

And those former service people - now artists - gathered together for the official launch at Kings Walk.

Ms Willis, who runs the up-market shirt-maker bearing her name from Bearlands House in Gloucester, also drives what Style for Soldiers Charity, which is what forged her links with former former service people.

"This is the third exhibition that we have had showing the work of veterans. We realise it is hugely beneficial and powerful in their rehabilitation.

"The first year we ran the exhibition in London, the second year we were in Sheffield for the Invictus Games, and now we are here, in Gloucester."

She added: "It is very powerful. You see these tough soldiers producing incredible creative work and beautiful pictures, after experiencing such terrible things serving their country in the likes of Afghanistan."

Stewart Hill, is portrait painter, poet and motivational speaker who was there for the launch.

Following severe Traumatic Brain injury incurred in Afghanistan whilst commanding B Company, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (2 Mercian) in Helmand in 2009, Mr Hill rediscovered a passion for painting and what are described as "it's vital healing properties as part of his long rehabilitation".

Mr Hill has won several awards, including shortlisted this year for the RA Summer Exhibition and his paintings are on display in some leading galleries.

"Initially I suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts. I knew I needed to do something and remembered I had enjoyed art when I was at school," he said, explaining how art had helped transform his life post military.

He added: "Emma Willis understands the power of the creative process and how it can change lives."

Style for Soldiers was founded 10 years ago by Ms Willis MBE - her response to the severe casualties returning from Afghanistan in the height of the violent conflict.

Struck by the challenge the young men and women now faced post medical discharge from the military, having suffered life changing physical and emotional injuries, she started visiting Headley Court Military hospital every two months for eight years to make complimentary clothing to help with self-esteem and confidence.

The charity also provides Bespoke Regimental Walking sticks which have been sponsored by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

She has built a database of over 750 injured service personnel who the charity continues to support with clothing for interviews, new jobs and important occasions, hosting the largest reunion parties held in the country, attended by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in 2016, including a family day at Woburn Safari Park donated each year by The Duke of Bedford. Ambassadors of the charity include Charles Dance, David Gandy and Telegraph Fashion Director Lisa Armstrong.

Through regular contact with the rehabilitating servicemen and women Emma has met several who have turned instinctively to art and poetry to help with the psychological healing process, resulting in last November's well attended 'Art in the Aftermath' exhibition at La Galleria, London, showcasing art, poetry and film created by former servicemen suffering from PTSD or brain injury predominantly incurred in Afghanistan, as well as the paintings and drawings of Harry Parker who was physically injured by a Taliban IED explosion.

The charity has now awarded seven arts sponsorships and each have resulted in the start of successful careers.

Art in the Aftermath moved to Sheffield in July as part of The Invictus Trials and continues its UK tour in Gloucester City centre from September - December 2019.

Creative work has been scientifically proven to help re-route the neurological pathways of the brain and the veterans, with financial support from various military charities, have found peace and purpose over the year and the aim now is to launch economically viable careers for them doing what they love and supports them psychologically.

The exhibition will also show powerful images of Emma's visits to Headley Court Military Hospital, as well as photographic portraits of injured soldiers dressed immaculately in a Style for Soldiers / Mr Porter photo shoot by top fashion photographers Ben Weller and Boo George to show the importance of smart clothes for morale and self-confidence when transitioning into new, unpredicted civilian life and careers.

The exhibition will also be showing several veterans' short films including Former Royal Engineer and triple amputee Matt Weston's short film starring Style for Soldiers Ambassador Charles Dance, 'For Love of Words.'

Sir John Timpson OBE, The Duke of Bedford, Nick Knowles and Ray Winstone have all commissioned Mr Hill to paint their portraits.

He is also an accomplished performing poet, writing about his experiences in the military with breathtaking power, conjuring up for the audience the horrors of the war in Afghanistan and responsibilities of military command. Stewart takes portrait commissions from all over the UK.

Martin Wade was medically discharged in 2015 following his diagnosis of PTSD in 2010 some three years after his return from Afghanistan. During a lengthy stay in a German Psychiatric Hospital he was encouraged to paint as part of a holistic approach to his therapy. He found a way to express creatively things he could not express in words. Martin is receiving significant interest from International Fine Art specialists and his work has been purchased by Antiques Roadshow Art expert Philip Mould MBE.

Former Guardsman Dougie Adams was injured in an IED incident on the 21st of June 2012 on his third tour of Afghanistan and suffered the emotional trauma also of his best friend being killed in an IED attack. Dougie was diagnosed with PTSD and discharged from the Army in 2014 and has come to painting for pleasure and effective therapy. He loves dogs and paints powerful and witty portraits but is happiest when he is outside in the wide-open landscape, where he feels at peace with his paints and his easel.

Karl Tearney has discovered poetry and art since he was medically discharged with PTSD, poems pouring urgently out of him, and his 570 to date poems will be displayed on one wall titled 'The Writings on the Wall'.

He also speaks honestly and powerfully about mental illness and gives voluntary talks to the Ambulance Service to help them deal with traumatic work.

Karl's first book of poetry, Second life, launched in July and is on sale at Waterstones (find out more about Second Life here)

Harry Parker grew up in Wiltshire and completed a Foundation Degree at Falmouth College of Art before going on to study History of Art at University College London, where he focussed on post - 1945 abstract expressionism.

Harry joined the British Army when he was 23 and served in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009 before going to work as a civil servant.

He met Emma Willis at Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Hospital shortly after an injury incurred in Afghanistan, where she was measuring the patients for complimentary shirts.

He now works as a painter and writer, his first novel Anatomy of a Solider (2016) is published by Faber and Faber.

John Cutting, studying BA Hons in Fine Art, and served in the Royal Engineers, creates Sculptures and instillations from mainly recycled materials. Using the cement mixer on his website, he is creating an instillation which uses noise, video (live streaming from inside the working cement mixer) representing the inner thoughts of Post Traumatic Stress Injury and mental health sufferer.

Artists will be in residence throughout the exhibition.

It will be a positive exhibition talking openly about PTSD and coping with physical life changing injury whilst celebrating the psychological healing powers of creativity.

Award winning Humanitarian photographer Giles Duley, also seriously injured in Afghanistan, talks of his involvement with the exhibtion.

To find out more about Style for Soldiers email info@styleforsoldiers.com, telephone 01452 416215 or visit www.styleforsoldiers.com .

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