Artist’s installation serves as plea for veterans
LACONIA, N.H. (AP) — Art is meant to connect with those who view it, but for Scott LoBaido, that connection is especially meaningful.
LoBaido is looking to raise awareness of the alarming rate of suicides among veterans, and Tuesday night he pushed that message in his introduction to a lighted installation in front of the local American Legion post.
The artist, who calls himself a creative patriot, learned a few years ago that veterans are killing themselves at a rate of 22 per day.
“It’s a delicate subject,” LoBaido acknowledged as he looked over the installation on Tuesday, “but it’s important to get over the stigma and take care of these men and women who take care of us.”
The latest survey found the suicide rate to be 20.6, not 22 per day, “but I know differently because I travel and I hear the stories,” LoBaido said. “The homeless are not listed on that survey. Neither are the ‘accidental’ deaths where a veteran rides a motorcycle at 140 mph and crashes into a tree on purpose. Whether it’s 26 a day or five a day, it’s a disgusting number.”
“It took months for me to come up with this display,” LoBaido said, explaining that he was working with the number 22 and discovered that putting the numbers back to back formed a hollow heart.
“It’s the only two digits you can use to form an empty heart,” he said, “and that’s for the families left behind, whether it’s six months ago or six years ago - that emptiness is still there.”
He painted the stars and stripes on the two numbers, and then overlaid collages of battle scenes on the white stripes, representing all of the country’s wars, from the Revolutionary War to today’s fighting around the world.
At the base of the “22” are 22 pairs of gold boots, and surrounding the numbers are wire mesh figures of 22 children.
“I created them as children to symbolize the purity and innocence we all had as children,” LoBaido said. The mesh renders them as ghostlike figures, but the artist also chose the mesh because of the way it reflects the light — sunlight during the day, but an even more compelling reflection of the lighting he has set up for night-time viewing.
“I got all kinds of cuts working with that sharp wire, but it’s what I needed for this,” LoBaido said.
“It’s a simple structure, but it really helps them — especially the families . It provokes emotion,” LoBaido said.
LoBaido has dedicated his art to the celebration of the country’s service men and women, and had been painting flags in all 50 states when he came up with the “22” exhibit. He began touring the original 13 states in Georgia last March, and from Laconia — after a stop in Detroit where he has another art project — he will be taking it to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
In his introduction before lighting the exhibit, LoBaido said he says “ugly and passionate things” about the plight of veterans.
“I’m not a doctor, psychologist, or wizard; I’m just an artist and a civilian who worships every minute of my freedom,” he said. “We’ve got to get rid of the stigma and we have to start the dialogue federally, statewide, and publicly. We should be talking about this more than anything else.”
LoBaido said there are many organizations who help veterans, but they are spread out and not reachable for many veterans, especially at the times they are needed.
“We need an umbrella to collect all these organizations, and fund them, and make this a daily conversation,” he said. “We need to set it up to reach them as long as they’re reachable, and provide a long-term transition when they get out of the service. They leave the war, but the demons never leave them. Just think about the worst thing you’ve ever seen, and then take that image 100-fold.
“We need to kill the stigma and let them know that it’s OK to look for help.”
To learn more about Scott LoBaido and support his efforts, see scottlobaido.com.
Information from: The Laconia Daily Sun.