John Melillo is a descendant (on his mother’s side) of the iconic potato farm families of Water Mill. His interview was a web of stories of a boy spending summers in Water Mill and Sagaponack in the late 1950’s through his successful career in printing, and his now retirement in Eastport where he paints and is a member of the Southampton Cultural Center. Thrusted into the narrative is the story of his Vietnam service which actually constitutes the nuts and bolts of this interview article.
His daughter Beth Melillo sent me the background about her dad saying, he “is a disabled, rated Vietnam Veteran. It wasn’t until he retired in 2015 and finally ‘slowed down,’ from a NYC business pace that he realized the overall affects the Vietnam War played on his life. He decided to enlist the VA to help him with health issues from the war (Agent Orange and PTSD), as well as pursue his interest in art. This Art was to be a methodology to heal himself from the images & experiences from long ago which were streaming within him now. John was a MP (Military Police Officer) in the Vietnam. His job was Front Line Supervision of 26 MPs 12 hours/day shifts working six weeks days then six weeks nights. He had to supervise any situation Civil or Combat in Long Bing, which was the largest Military Installation in Vietnam involving over 40,000 GIs and 60,000 Vietnamese.”
What the Melillos, both Beth and John, are planning is a John Melillo – SCC Life Goes On multi-media event, including oil painting art -original photos and video exhibition from Vietnam on September 20th with a kick-off event from 2 to 4 p.m. It will be on view through November 4th.
But, the story here isn’t that event, but the magical beauty of the process; John’s metamorphosis. “For all the years I worked in my successful printing business I never really thought about my Vietnam experiences. I lived in the now. It wasn’t until years later that the negative effects of my service started to literally haunt me. It was the painting that opened that door back in my mind where the hidden suppressed fury was somehow stored and compartmentalized.”
Beth has already started various video projects stating the process how her dad, “Upon retirement started Auditing Art Classes (Suffolk Community College) and attending Oil Painting Classes at the Southampton Cultural Center, Art League of L.I and even the SVA in NYC.”
Beth said, “The result: THE EARTH SHOOK for dad. He then decided he would pursue a ‘final act 3’ of his life with the Art World as his goal. He even thought he might create his own business in the field by utilizing his previous business skills. He felt the first step was to learn how to be an Artist. Learning a life lesson, ‘a smart man knows what he doesn’t know.'”
Next, John explained his thinking saying, “I was basically in a search of knowledge. I wondered how do artists think? What drives them? What tools do they need and use to accomplish their goals and style?”
John said, “Having already obtained a B.S. from Cornell before the Army, I decided to enlist the VA in my quest. First, I needed to know something about the art component and NYC is a mecca in the art world. The VA was very supportive as I continued taking Art & Business Courses at the SVA (School of Visual Arts), The NY Academy of Art, Christies, and Sotheby’s. I enjoyed my visits to various museums and art shows in NYC.”
John is still now going through a process of reconciling the trauma of his Vietnam experiences, still experiencing nightmares and flashbacks. However, John has now accumulated 60 paintings. He said he has never sold any, although he has received offers. He has painted Shinnecock Inlet on one of his fishing trips with Beth. Then he has a Vietnam series. You can check his paintings out on Instagram @artfeelingsjm.
The Melillos know they have an important story to tell and are doing it together. I, for one, can’t wait to see the results.