Delavan vet uses art to heal scars of war
DELAVAN — For Mark Duran, memories of war are a constant companion. But so, too, is Duran's art. And it's the latter that helps him focus on a future that's alive with color and hope.
Duran, 43, of Delavan is an Army veteran who served and was seriously injured on the front lines in Afghanistan in 2005.
Growing up in the desert Southwest, Duran's parents divorced and his mother relocated to Williams Bay. Duran would spend summers at Geneva Lake and had many fond memories of the water and the green vegetation.
Duran received his art degree from the University of Alaska Southeast and attended art school in the Netherlands. Returning stateside, he completed his master's of education at the University of Oregon.
Duran didn't have intentions of serving in the armed forces. His reasons for enlisting were dictated by loyalty and lineage.
“Had I not served, that would have broken a chain dating back to 1860 and the Prussian wars,” he said. “My father also served in Korea, and I had cousins serve in Vietnam.”
He also had a good friend in the service encouraging him as well as a girlfriend who lived in Europe at the time. Those who enlisted were guaranteed to go overseas.
In 1999 Duran continued the family heritage and joined the Army. He served as a military policeman and underwent officer training.
On Sept. 7, 2005, Duran would find himself in the lead vehicle of a convoy, and life — like a canvas — was changed with a single stroke.
Duran describes the scene like any other day: “We were approaching a marketplace and there was a boy in the road on a bicycle, and then the boy disappeared.”
Duran was sitting in the turret of a Humvee that was attacked by a suicide bomber. Duran suffered fractures to his C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae and multiple civilians were injured.
Today he lives with intense migraine headaches, trouble retaining information and PTSD, which gives him flashbacks and nightmares, as well as making him hypersensitive in crowds and wary of social settings.
Although his injury was serious, Duran said he considered it secondary.
“The hardest part about being deployed is being separated from your unit,” Duran said.
He eventually would rejoin his unit after a short recovery, however, he said the incident put him on edge.
“In Afghanistan the mission changed, as I went from a professional staying calm in most circumstances to an overly angry, aggressive soldier,” Duran said.
He would leave the Army two years later, first returning to Wisconsin, then to Taos, New Mexico, which reminded him of the Afghan landscapes, something that served as inspiration for his paintings.
Duran never stopped painting, even during his deployments. He took his painting supplies and sketches with him and even displayed an exhibition in Germany in 2006. The setting was surreal — a bombed-out church that was a remnant left over from World War II.
As the years since his injury roll by, Duran continues to turn his pain into paintings.
With each stroke of the brush, the veteran artist focuses on an image instead of his war experiences and injuries.
“I think that's been the most therapeutic thing for myself,” he said. “Anything in the past you're not worried about, just what's in front of you.”
Duran has a motto on his website, a Georgia O'Keeffe quote which states, “The source of art comes from the unconscious.”
It's something to which he can relate.
“I just paint like it's in my mind, I'm not trying to push another sale or anything ...” Duran said. “It just comes out of me. When I try to force something, it just doesn't work.”
Duran has never forgotten those he served with or his fellow veterans. He painted more than a dozen donated guitars that were sold at auction to benefit the Guitars for Vets program. He also recently underwent training through Veterans Affairs to teach Zen Tangled, a mindfulness exercise that is used as therapy for veterans.
Duran will teach veterans like himself who suffer from PTSD this simple therapy to help cope with the aftermath of war.
“I'm amazed how much benefit vets can get from this one small piece of therapy,” he said.
Connecting with fellow veterans is another source of healing for Duran.
“For the past nine years I have been meeting with several veterans groups a week at the Milwaukee VA. This is where I feel most comfortable,” he said. “The VA has been a huge source of healing for me.”
And, of course, his artistic therapy continues.
His Delavan home, a mortgage-free donation from the Military Warriors Support Foundation in 2014, is close to Williams Bay and the beloved lake settings he loves to paint.
Duran shows his work at The Studio in Williams Bay and has an ongoing art exhibit in New Glarus. He annually shows at the VA Creative Arts Festival, recently winning first prize for a painted surfboard. He also belongs to SWAT (Southwest Alpine Team), teaching ski instruction at Alpine Valley near East Troy.
From combat to coping, Duran keeps going through his art. For each brush stroke — if only for an instant — takes the pain and replaces it with pleasure.
He said he wouldn't change a thing about enlisting, living overseas or anything in between.
“Life's about experiences and those are things people can't take away from you.”