When she’s not bringing 3D art and sculptural work to life as an art student at The University of Toledo, Heather Tarolli loves helping others make a stress-mess masterpiece.
The U.S. Army veteran submerges turkey basters, crochet balls, plastic Easter eggs and paintbrushes into buckets of paint — all tools to therapeutically sling color against a wall.
Tarolli leads rage painting classes at H.O.O.V.E.S. in Swanton, a nonprofit organization that offers emotional support for military veterans through an equine-assisted learning program.
In August she created this safe way for fellow military veterans and the general public to release suppressed frustrations during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Rage painting is part of our community outreach,” Tarolli said. “H.O.O.V.E.S. lost a ton of funding when the pandemic hit, so all the money we make from rage painting goes towards putting veterans through a retreat weekend featuring all of the different courses with horses.”
Rage painting is much more than throwing paint at a canvas.
“It’s a cathartic release of energy and feelings and emotions in a physical way,” said Tarolli, who finds art a helpful way to work through her own PTSD.
Tarolli enlisted in the Army in 2008, was stationed for most of the time as an air traffic controller with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley in Kansas and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2013. Three years ago she was medically retired after a back injury.
“Everyone has anger,” said Tarolli, a mother of two girls, ages 4 and 8. “Everyone’s frustrated over something or another, whether it’s wearing masks; my kids have to stay home from school and now we’re doing remote learning; not being able to go see your friends and family or go out and do the things you used to. And coincidentally, wearing paint suits, face shields and gloves to protect yourself from the paint makes it really easy to transition for pandemic usage.”
The idea is that if you’re going to throw something to release stress or anger, do it in a constructive way and in a safe environment.
“That leads to you talking about your anger and figuring out why you’re that angry, but you get that instant release of throwing the paint, getting it out,” Tarolli said. “And then when you’re done with it, you have this wonderful painting at the end that can serve as a reminder of how you worked through your emotions.”
U.S. Air Force veteran Amanda Held, a certified trauma instructor and founder of H.O.O.V.E.S., works with Tarolli as a co-instructor of the rage painting classes, calling them unconventional but effective therapy.
“Around the farm we say, ‘You’ve got to feel it to heal it,’” Held said. “Rage painting is a perfect example of that. It’s a positive way to bring up feelings of stress and frustration and let them out constructively, while balancing the heavy emotions with expressions of fun and humor. It’s a somatic experience that leaves participants feeling relieved and lighter.”
Tarolli is a sculpture major at UToledo in the College of Arts and Letters.
“I work with my hands,” Tarolli said. “Clay, metal, wood, anything.”
She spends four days a week taking classes at the Center for Sculptural Studies located next to UToledo’s Center for the Visual Arts, a building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and attached to the Toledo Museum of Art.
“I love being an art student at UToledo,” Tarolli said. “The Toledo Museum of Art is a privately funded art museum, and we’re one of the only universities that has a university attached to a privately owned museum. We have that instant availability of, ‘Well, I want to go see a David Smith sculpture,’ and we can just walk down the street and go see one. The availability is right there to see the art, interact with the art.”
Tarolli’s goal is to graduate with a bachelor’s of fine arts and open her own studio in Toledo.
“Going into the arts is something a lot of veterans are drawn to — especially if they’re artistic — because it helps with PTSD, depression and anxiety,” Tarolli said. “It’s expression. You get to express how you’re feeling through whatever you’re making.
“I’m working through my stuff. We talk about emotions. We talk about feelings. And it’s not something to be scared about.”
Learn how to sign up for rage painting classes on the H.O.O.V.E.S. website.