My name is Richard Casper, and I am both a United States Marine Veteran and an artist. My role as a Veteran of the war in Iraq has influenced the artist I am today. For me, art is a form of expression and therapy, and the story of how it became so important in my life is an interesting one.
During my tour in Iraq, I survived four different IED explosions. I was extremely lucky, however, I sustained left-traumatic brain injuries from three of those incidents. This resulted in the right side of my brain to take lead, which is the creative side. Until this point, I never used art to express myself. Now I enjoy all forms of art, with ceramics and photography being the two medias I focus most on.
Before I was a student at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, I attended a tiny high school in Washburn, IL, where we did not explore a huge variety of art forms. I’d never worked with ceramics until my roommate at the Art Institute, Steven Stoll, introduced me to the ceramics department. He taught me how to work with the clay, and I instantly fell in love with it. So, I began enrolling in classes. My first semester in ceramics was tough; I had many ideas, but was still trying to figure out how to work them into the clay. Nevertheless, it became more natural to me by the end of the semester. I started telling tales of war through ceramic sculpture, and I have stuck to this topic. Hopefully, I can touch both veterans of war and non-military peoples through my work. I’d like to play a part in helping everyone to appreciate and understand the seriousness of war.
I understand that sometimes my art is too heavy for some people to take in. Everything I create is conceptual, not just a simple object. This began with the help of a few teachers who taught me to become less literal with the objects and focus more on meaning. One of my favorite pieces, a fifty-gallon oil drum made of clay, demonstrates this perfectly. To create this piece, I used only my hands and a smoothing tool after coil-building it to the height I desired. My nieces added the finishing touches to the barrel by coloring all over it. I wanted authentic children’s drawings on the piece to represent innocence. Once the oil drum was done I made a little children’s doll out of clay. It was an alien creature but from a distance it looked like a teddy bear with his head blown off. I set this on top of the oil drum for the final display of the piece. The work all together represents the loss of innocence during war. The barrel is to represent the war in Iraq, and the kids’ doll and drawings represent the presence of a child and innocence. What I really want to portray to people is that life or death situations and witnessing death takes a part of someone that can’t be gained back.
My work is inspired mostly by my own experiences. I never used inspiration from other artists until last semester when I discovered the work of Do-Ho Suh. He too does a lot with the military theme, and he is a master at pulling one into a sculpture before he or she realizes it is a military based piece. He showed me that I should lure the viewer in with the sculpture but have a war based theme that has to be discovered.
All in all I like where I have been, and I like where I am going. My new style is becoming abstract sculpture that soon I can turn into a more conceptual military theme. My teachers have helped me out tremendously and I definitely wouldn’t being doing the things I have done without their help and guidance.