Born: Vienne, France, 1945 Died: 2008 Served in Vietnam, U.S. Army
From the artist:
These paintings became a part of my life. They are me, my fears, my heartbreaks, friendships, nightmares. This will not only be a resting place for them, it will also be a place for me among men and women who have shared experiences in our youth.
About the artist:
John Dell's parents were familiar with war. As a young boy, his parents would tell him of their experiences in France during the occupation in World War II. He had no clue, though that he would tell a similar story to his children years later. A story not through verbal expression, but through the heartfelt strokes of a paint brush.
Within a year of graduating high school, John was drafted into the U.S. Army. He arrived in January 1967. His family was the 1st 14th Golden Dragons, Alpha Company 25th Infantry. His closed friend and partner was the M 60. Home was Hill 54 in Chu Lai.
Having a keen eye for detail, John immediately noticed the beauty and visual poetry of Vietnam. On the chopper to Chu Lai he remembers the intricate mosaic rice paddies and the pristine mountains that make up Vietnam. On another occasion, he remembers walking through a small trail around Hill 54 with his partner. He found an ankle-high bush that could easily tear skin off with its thorns. It had been trying to survive, for it had turned brown, and it had but one single flower on it-- the color of a rose. John recalls, "For an instant, it brought me back home it was a rose among the wild, a diamond in the rough."
But Vietnam is a land where the poetry comes in extremes. Within a few months of being in Vietnam, John was wounded and his blood had stained the place where he returns to in his mind to this day. He was relieved to hear then, that within a few more months, he would return to the U.S. in time for Christmas, 1967. The morning of December 18, he sat shotgun with a driver. It was peculiarly quiet. Moments later, he found himself thrown through the air, landing on a rice paddy. He was on the brink of death and he had almost completely lost his arm. A mine had severely wounded him and taken the life of the driver. He was left with questions that he would ask himself for the rest of his life. Questions that he chose not to answer; instead suppressing them and eliminating any memories of 'Nam that he had.
When John returned to the U.S. he found himself working with his father. John's father, Frank, had made a name for himself by making cranial prostheses for patients who had severe medical problems. It is a creative trade, originating in France, and done completely by hand.
Throughout the 1980s, feelings and visual memories of Vietnam were reappearing for John. When the Gulf War had begun in the early 1990s, John's internal war of Vietnam had been fully disclosed. He had become introverted and silent, almost as if he were watching a movie inside himself. One night, he asked his oldest daughter, who had attended Paier College of Art, if he could use a canvas and some oils. Having difficulty because of his arm injury, John was forced to paint on the floor on his knees. He painted quietly, when everyone else was asleep. He became more interested in painting and researched and trained himself through books. Painting had become what he calls his "pressure valve" for releasing repressed memories and feelings.
"I found myself painting until early morning, losing sense of time. I wanted to let out what I and thousands of others felt. Each painting is a story, anything from friendship to desolation, from views from a helicopter to looking at giant columns of smoke, looking like sentinels waiting for our arrival."
Having been diagnosed with PTSD, John has undergone treatment from the VA to assist him. Perhaps the more effective treatement though, is the therapy he has designed for himself. "From teaching myself, I feel the warmth and the coolness of colors. People have said there is a lot fo feeling when they look at my paintings and I tell them it is nothing else but heart and soul."
The beauty of Vietnam exists as extremes: both sides of the spectrum. For John Dell, painting has been the only way to encapsulate this. Nothing about Vietnam, though, can be fully explained and continues to ask questions to all of us:
Were we not as brave as other men and women who fought on other soil, in other times?
Did we not battle for our country as well? Did our wounds not feel the same?
Scars of body, scars of mind, tears, tears, death behind like a shadow.
Fix the wounds, wipe the tears, fear of memories remain behind like a shadow.