Cutting through the pain

Former soldier uses art to overcome his time in Afghanistan

CLINTON — Daniel Corona’s art is as exhilarating and, sometimes, frightening as the story behind it.

When Corona, 33, got back from Afghanistan 10 years ago, the former National Guard soldier seemed different to his friends.

“They thought I was squirrelly,” he said.

“He was completely different,” said Corona’s mother, Karen Wall. “He said he wasn’t Daniel, that Daniel had been killed in Afghanistan.”

Corona was paranoid and delusional.

“I had a breaking point in Lafayette in 2005,” he said. “My brother’s a nurse. He called the cops and an ambulance.”

Two years later, Corona was living in an apartment near LSU when he became convinced that friends were throwing a party for him at a pool hall off College Drive.

Corona started walking from his apartment near Walk-Ons on Burbank Drive to College Drive. He altered course at Acadian Thruway, walked up an exit ramp and into I-10 traffic.

Corona’s appearance on the interstate touched off calls to 911 and Corona’s family.

“Someone recognized me,” he said. “The cops and an ambulance were waiting for me, as usual,” he said.

On new medication, Corona worked as a carpenter fixing up apartments around LSU. He came across panels of glass in closets, table tops left behind by students.

Corona had taken art at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge.

“It was to get out of math class,” he said. “We’d sneak off to Krispy Kreme up the street. I didn’t do much art.”

At first, Corona used a brush to apply paint to the glass table tops he found.

“You could see through the glass until you put on enough paint,” he said. Corona’s mind was moving too fast for a brush.

“I had razor tools because I was working with sheetrock,” he said.

“I could use more paint at one time with a razor,” he said. “I could move faster in the direction I wanted to go. It was geometric, not feathered like with a brush.”

“With a razor, each stroke is a completed movement,” he said.

For contrast and depth, he paints on both sides of the glass.

“I see it as a canvas,” he said. “People are always saying they’d like to put a light behind it, but I don’t want that. These are made to be viewed from the front, like a painting on a canvas.”

Corona has fans in Marsha Kemp who works at Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson, Lewis Savoie at the Drop and Go cleaners on Clinton’s Plank Road and 79-year-old Marquita McKnight at McKnight’s Department Store on La. 10, Clinton’s St. Helena Street.

“I think he’s a big talent,” said McKnight, an artist who holds classes in her department store.

“A girl who was taking an art class in the store brought in a piece of Daniel’s work that blew me away,” McKnight said. “Daniel brought in more and more and more until we filled up the store.”

Corona was working in a corner of his bedroom in a cabin he built in the woods outside Clinton.

“Mrs. McKnight helped him heal,” said Karen Wall.

Corona’s art was the backdrop for a ballet choreographed by McKnight’s son, Will, in Fort Worth where Will McKnight attends TCU.

On the advice of Marquita McKnight, Corona is working on enough pieces for an exhibit.

“I think his art is phenomenal,” said Savoie by telephone from the Drop and Go.

“I have a background in museums and art,” said Savoie whose laundry doubles as an art gallery. “His mother told me about his art. I drove out there and I was, like, dude, you’ve got to get this out there.”

“I saw it in the windows of McKnight’s Department store two years ago before I met his mother,” Savoie said. “I thought, ‘I’ve seen this in Austin, New York, New Orleans.’ ”

Corona isn’t a patient of Kemp’s. She knows him through his art, but she recognizes the therapeutic value of what the former soldier’s doing.

“I use art in the hospital as a therapeutic tool with my clients,” she said. “It’s easier to reach some people through art. Art is a language for people who can’t express themselves in other ways. It lets them express things they can’t talk about or don’t want to talk about.”

“It’s not the painting,” Corona said. “It’s what I’m thinking, something intense and dynamic. It evokes emotion in other people. It hit me: That’s what expression is. It came full circle for me.”