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14th February 2024 Latest News

How art helped change Sean’s life

Sean Halfpenny resized

For Australian Army veteran, Sean Halfpenny, art is the missing piece he didn’t know he needed.

After joining the Royal Australian Regiment in 2008 as an infantry soldier in the 5th Battalion, Sean was deployed to Afghanistan two years later where he spent 10 months on the ground helping to train Afghan National Army personnel.

Returning home, Sean was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal before discharging in 2013.

But in an all too familiar story, the adjustment into civilian life proved tougher than expected.

Sean always knew something wasn’t quite right, but his PTSD didn’t fully become clear until the birth of his first son in 2018.

“It really started to manifest into a lot of guilt about thinking I could have done more over there to make the kids safe,” he said.

“I was going through a really tough stage and I was burying stuff while working fulltime and often away from home. It got too much and I decided I needed to concentrate on my mental health more.”

Sean with two of his paintings, ‘Unbroken Service’ (left) and ‘Gentle Soldier’ (right). PHOTO: Supplied

About two years ago, Sean met The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) Group – Creative Health’s visual arts tutor Kaz Pederson while taking part in an eight-week trauma recovery program at the Jamie Larcombe Centre.

Before meeting Kaz, Sean hadn’t picked up a paint brush since High School.

But once he sat down to paint, the stress and anxiety was no more. It was just him and the blank canvas.

Now a regular at Military and Emergency Services Health Australia’s (MESHA) Veterans Art Program, which is ran by Kaz at her studio in Fullarton, the former soldier says he hasn’t looked back.

“It’s like a feeling of purpose because you are creating something. When you are painting, it’s just what you are doing in that moment and for me, it gives me a lot of self-worth and purpose,” Sean said.

“If you said to me 10 years ago that I was going to be an artist, I would have just laughed. It feels like it’s that missing piece that I never knew existed and to be honest, it has changed my life.”

Primarily painting portraits, Sean’s work heavily focuses on his military background.

Rather than depict the typical imagery though, Sean’s paintings attempt to find the human elements, the moments you don’t get to see, like a soldier smelling a rose or putting a band-aid on a child.

He says it’s all about changing perceptions on how people view soldiers.

‘Gentle Soldier’, a painting based on a photo Sean took when deployed to Afghanistan.

In 2023, Sean received an art scholarship at the Adelaide Central School of Art which allowed him to take part in a 10-week short course of his choosing.

Each year, THRF Group – Creative Health and MESHA provide eight scholarships for veterans and emergency service personnel who have participated in their inpatient and outpatient art programs.

The scholarships are designed to help enhance their wellbeing by learning a new skill or refining current techniques.

You can read more about the Veterans Art Program here.

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