Curtis Bean on the Art of War -- and what it means to veterans

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Artist, philanthropist and Iraq veteran Curtis Bean, mastermind behind the Art of War project, was leading a group of snipers through the Middle East back when most of us were getting drunk, watching Saved by the Bell reruns in our college dorms. Today, that earnest Midwestern transplant -- you'll know him by his casual, down-home drawl -- has done "a complete 180," he says, and is finding a way to bring a little light to the kind of darkness only a veteran knows.

See also: Naomi Haverland on the strange things that inspire her

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Bean came of age in small-town America -- specifically in Troy, Missouri -- where he spent his boyhood hunting and fishing and being outdoors. "I had a great childhood," Bean recalls. But that lulling local life developed in Bean a desire "to be a part of something larger than just my home town," he says. And while rural Missouri was a great place to be a kid, "it isn't an easy place to be an adult," Bean explains. That's because, for adults looking for careers, there's farming and construction ... and that's about it.

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So Bean joined the Army at age seventeen and served two tours in Iraq over the course of five and a half years, living the sort of macabre scenes we watch on Homeland. After serving as a scout, Bean's unit was dissembled, and he tried out for an open spot on a sniper team. Of twenty (or so) applicants, six, including Bean, were selected then trained as Army snipers.

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"I was 21 years old, leading my own sniper team, and I didn't realize until afterwards how much responsibility it was," says Bean, who turns 29 this month. "There's not a lot of responsibilities today, comparatively."

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Today, Bean is a student at the University of Colorado at Denver, though he entertained other plans first, dabbling with personal training (not a good fit) and then completing fire school and EMT training with the goal of being a firefighter in Denver. But shortly after migrating west, Bean realized he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and received help at Denver's VA Medical Center, which offers a seven-week-long inpatient clinic for veterans.

"I went through the clinic for PTSD and realized being a firefighter probably wouldn't be the best thing for that," Bean recalls. "Everyone has their own little gifts." Turned out, one of Bean's little gifts is art.

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The veteran had taken a few art classes in high school -- nothing serious. When he relocated to Denver a decade later, Bean searched for something unique to hang in his new digs. "I couldn't find anything in stores, so I went out and bought materials, stretched canvas and started painting," he says. That's when Bean realized he wanted to pursue art professionally.

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So last January, Bean enrolled in college, where he is currently getting his BFA in fine arts. "Art school is like kindergarten," he says, and he means that in the best way. "I'm a totally different person than I was in the military," Bean explains. "I was very hard, and now I am more vulnerable and more open to different ideas and different things."

Keep reading for more from Curtis Bean.

Location Info

Ajuua Mexican Restaurant

6020 S. Gun Club Road, Aurora, CO

Category: Restaurant

VA Medical Center

1055 Clermont St., Denver, CO

Category: General

Hope Tank

64 Broadway, Denver, CO

Category: General

Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design

1600 Pierce St., Lakewood, CO

Category: General


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