It seems that Domenic Watts may have more in common with the general public than he thought.

Watts, a 24-year-old Navy veteran who served one deployment in the Persian Gulf on the dock landing ship Germantown, is a resident of Veterans Village of San Diego, where, as part of his treatment, he participates in expressive art therapy twice a week.

One of his pieces, “Anger Inside,” was on display at Horton Plaza last week during a special exhibit featuring the art of veterans. The piece was of a sad mask, surrounded by text that described Watts’ internal rage.

It elicited a strong response from the public. One woman hugged Watts after she learned he was the artist.

“People like it,” Watts said. “They can relate.”

Nine professional artists and photographers joined Watts and five other amateurs from Veterans Village — a treatment facility that helps veterans cope with the traumas of war — to show off their work during the first Veterans+Art Showcase.

The event was a joint effort of the nonprofit Veteran Artist Program and graduate business students from Brandman University who used their marketing skills to promote and raise funds for the cause.

Among the nine professionals, there were several who served in the military but never saw combat. One, 31-year-old photographer Bonnie Warrington, served in Iraq during a six-month deployment to Kirkuk in 2003-04, she said.

Warrington, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., native and Air Force veteran who lives in Los Angeles, displayed her project “History, Power, and Beauty,” in which a nude model was photographed with international landmarks Photoshopped onto her body.

A recent graduate of the Art Institutes of California, Warrington has been with the Veteran Artist Program eight months, and one of her pieces was selected to be shown in Washington, D.C., this summer, she said.

“I think it’s a great thing to have an exhibit going on to bring awareness to art and veterans,” Warrington said. “It’s a great opportunity for military, active and inactive, to realize there are programs like (this) out there.”

The Veteran Artist Program is an international organization that fosters and promotes artists who have served in the military through networking, collaborations, mentorships and original productions.

“The goal is to promote awareness to the public of veterans, their service and connect veterans and art,” Veteran Artist Program spokeswoman Kathleen Ellertson said. “We want to make veterans in the area aware of programs like this and other programs that can help them, and also make the community of San Diego aware of veterans and their service.”

Residents of Veterans Village were invited to participate as part of the event’s mission to educate visitors about the importance of art therapy, which has grown in popularity as a way to help veterans cope with combat-related issues.

Art therapy helps veterans reconnect with people, gives patients a sense of pride and accomplishment, promotes healthy living and increases mobility, said Kelli Kaliszewski, a recreation therapist at the San Diego Veterans Healthcare Center in La Jolla.

“With art therapy, a lot of patients use it as a tool to express themselves and deal with their emotions,” Kaliszewski said. “They use art as their palette. Through their creativity, they can use it as part of their healing.”

That certainly appeared to be the case for Watts. The power of his piece came from the text, which described how his anger burns inside him every day.

“I’m getting a lot of good feedback,” he said. “This is good we’re able to be a part of this as vets.”

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