“When I make my work, he’s in mind,” says Jacob Cullers ’15, of his late brother, Army Sgt. Ari Cullers, 28, who died during his second deployment in Afghanistan on Oct. 30, 2011. “Even if I’m not making a painting about him, he’s there in every brush stroke. Every move I make, he’s there.”
A veteran of the war in Iraq, Cullers, of Waterford, Conn., says he uses his art to tap into his emotions about the loss of his brother, as well as his own experience while serving four years in the Air Force. He says at the time of his brother’s passing, painting was the only outlet he had. “I kind of had something to paint about after my brother passed,” he says. “The beauty of my situation is I have painting to express how I feel about the situation, but how do you paint anger and sadness and all kinds of mixed emotions?”
Cullers describes his early works as gory and kind of hard core, and credits his painting instructors at the University's Hartford Art School with helping him translate his war experience into a visual language. That’s when he says his personal vision and growth as an artist really took off. “They worked with me to refine my art and showed me other artists who experienced war. It made my work more mature and more to the point where it could really speak for itself.”
Cullers earned a BFA in painting and a minor in art history, then went to the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland, to earn a Master of Letters, which is equivalent to a MFA. His graduate degree show in Glasgow was named Casualty series and was about the unpopular topics of war and death. “I think people want to look at paintings to see nice flowers and landscapes because it takes them away from the reality of things,” Cullers explains. “As an artist, your job is to bring the truth to light through your work.”
Now that he’s back in the U.S., Cullers wants to start a program to offer free painting classes for veterans, to show them how art can help them deal with loss and war experiences. “After serving in a war where they’re blowing things up, picking up a paint brush may make them feel like they’re demeaning themselves. I want to help them to not be afraid to express themselves,” he says.
Cullers says his main purpose is really about keeping his brother Ari’s name alive. “Hopefully my brother is happy about what I’m doing.”
You can see a solo showing of Culler’s work called, "Castles Made of Sand," at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn., now through December 2.