April 20, 2016
“[My art] gives me somewhere to put energythat I have no other way to get rid of.”
Everywhere Jason Smith turned, it seemed death surrounded him. As a medic in the smoldering battlegrounds of Iraq, he performed CPR on fatally wounded Marines. Back home he was involved in a car wreck that left him with a traumatic brain injury and killed a friend.
Jason Smith works in his home studio.PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVEN KARL METZER
Before long he began hallucinating. There were daytime visions of dying men at his feet. In the grocery store, Smith saw the smiling ghosts of uniformed Marines waving. He was diagnosed in May 2005 with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The following year Smith, 33, was discharged after two tours in Iraq. Back in civilian life, he held and lost eight different jobs, largely due to symptoms relating to his PTSD. After a period of hardship and heavy drinking, Smith finally found comfort doing something he’d never done before: picking up a paintbrush.
These days the walls of the Gainesville, Georgia, home he shares with his wife, Pamela, are decorated with paintings and mixed-media artwork incorporating found items like feathers, vinyl records, and gnarly chunks of driftwood. Pop culture is a dominant theme—think ThunderCats cartoons, Iron Maiden album covers, and Duke’s Mayonnaise jars—but it’s not all lighthearted. One painting features a man dangling from a cliff; a group of soldiers grasp at him from below, trying to pull him down. “The chasm represents PTSD and memories and intrusive thoughts,” says the burley, bearded Smith, who swears by the healing power of the creative process.
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