Exorcising the demons of war through art
PUBLISHED: 15:34 28 November 2012
Gulf War soldier Glenn Fitzpatrick witnessed atrocities he can't forget but art helped him through the trauma.
Glenn Fitzpatrick witnessed the blood, the dismembered limbs and holes in bodies that were on another scale to the combat films he had seen during his teenage years.
Aged just 18, he was thrust into the Gulf War, working as a tank driver for a team of medics and using a gun to protect them as they saved colleagues’ lives.
“The training and everything prepares you but nothing can prepare you for the reality. It was very testing and I realised the values of humanity,” he says.
The experience of war made a bigger impact on him than he could have imagined and it has taken Glenn, known as “Fitzy”, 20 years to piece his life back together and move forward.
Art has been his salvation and this week he is launching a new exhibition, Symbols of Society, that reflects on his journey from broken soldier to emerging artist.
The 40-year-old, who now lives in Canterbury, grew up in Gravesend (“It was a bit of a rough area but I always had great fun”).
Leaving school at 16, he became a barber’s apprentice before signing up and being sent to Iraq within six months.
Three years later he returned to Gravesend a different person but found that nothing around him had changed.
“It was a culture shock. I was doing anything to try to fit back into society. But I was so regimented and everyone else seemed so laid back. Your indoctrination changes you mentally and physically, and your mind is in a different state. You become desensitised.”
He suffered nightmares about his time in Iraq and found it hard to communicate with his friends and family.
His refuge came in drawing. He enrolled in the University of the Creative Arts in Canterbury and found a way to voice his demons.
“If you have got something in your heart that you don’t know how to articulate, you become very insular. Doing art was the voice that had been missing. My vocabulary was very restricted but my visual vocabulary could achieve anything.”
Two years ago, Glenn published Arts and Mines, a graphic novel about his experiences in Operation Desert Storm and his difficult return home.
Writing and drawing about his experiences gave him closure on chapters in his life, he says. The more he wrote, the fewer nightmares he had.
Symbols of Society harks back to his days in the army (the acronym being SOS) but he is moving on to new issues.
His main piece, which the exhibition is named after, is a petrol pump attached to a bayonet, which Glenn believes is “a sign of our times”.
“Because of my experience of fighting for fuel, and then seeing the price of fuel so high, I thought ‘no more, I can’t take it’. This is the symbol that says enough is enough.”
Glenn doesn’t shy away from using art to comment on the rest of the world, governments, corruption, inequality and the need for unity.
“I am making a political statement about fuel. I want people to understand what the world is about.
“I guess you could call my art anti-war. I was disgusted by the Iraq war in 2002. I just want to see some form of equality.
“Through art I am going to try to put the world to rights,” he says.
His memories of the Gulf will remain part of him, he doesn’t doubt, but Glenn is now getting back on his feet.
“Things are starting to pick up and it feels like I have finally been heard. Art has been the best thing that has happened to me.”
Symbols of Society by Fitzy is at the Grossmith Gallery in Margate, December 1 to January 10.