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Painting helped save my life, Iraq veteran says

Published 03/09/2016

Jacob Cullers unveils paintings at the Glasgow School of Art graduate degree show (PA/Alan McAteer)
Jacob Cullers unveils paintings at the Glasgow School of Art graduate degree show (PA/Alan McAteer)

An Iraq war veteran turned artist said his works depicting those fatally wounded in the war helped save his life after his brother died in Afghanistan.

Jacob Cullers, 30, from the US, unveiled his Casualty series of paintings at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) 2016 graduate degree show, which opens to the public on Saturday.

He said: "My motto is paint or die. That's what I live by and I think if I didn't have painting at the time of my brother's death I would have drank myself to death. That's the blessing of the situation, that I could create art.

"The paintings all kind of relate to my experience of the Iraq war in the US Airforce and the loss of my brother, who was killed in Afghanistan in the US Army.

"A lot of them were based on the casualties of war, whether that's military, innocent casualties or other people caught up in the war machine."

Mr Cullers said he "fell in love with painting" after taking college courses on his return to the US having served in Iraq at the country's largest detainee prison, Camp Bucca.

He drew inspiration for his works from the reaction to the death of his brother, Ari, who was fatally injured by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in 2011 at the age of 28.

Mr Cullers said: "People kept saying to me he died for his country and I started asking myself, 'is my country worth dying for?'

"That led to looking at more information and reading more about the politics and greed and the money being made in the invasion of Iraq.

"People made a lot of money off other people dying. I'm critiquing my country.

"I volunteered for the military and so did my brother, and he was proud of what he was doing, but the back story is that it was all about money rather than people's lives."

Mr Cullers, from Waterford, Connecticut, is one of more than 300 students exhibiting work at the free degree show which is held at three venues across Glasgow between September 3 and 8.

Other projects on show include Lager Lovelies re-imagined - illustrations featuring the leaders of Scotland's three main parties showing how perceptions of women have transformed in under 30 years - and a documentary exploring techno music links between Glasgow and Detroit.

Further works include an examination of how people with schizophrenia experience the world and a Polish artist exploring how press representation of immigration influences public perception.

GSA director Professor Tom Inns said: "The graduate community has always been an important part of the GSA's student body with their work contributing significantly to our profile as a recognised centre of research excellence.

"In recent years it has grown both in size and the diversity of discipline studied.

"Graduate degree show is the annual opportunity for the public to see and learn more about the wide range of projects being undertaken by our Masters students."

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