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East End artist John Melillo at last year’s Hamptons Fine Arts Fair. (Photo courtesy of Beth Melillo)

Tomorrow there’s a free painting workshop for veterans, first responders and families at the Art League of Long Island led by East End-based artist and disabled Vietnam War veteran John Melillo. And while the event may be a bit of a trek for his fellow East Enders, as this “Art of Healing” painting workshop is at the League’s location in Dix Hills from 4 to 6 p.m., Melillo’s artwork is found and celebrated across the South Fork on a year-round basis.

Melillo was featured last year in Southampton’s Hero Honor Banner. (Photo courtesy of Beth Melillo)

Working predominantly with oil paints on canvas, plywood and shadow box (glass), the content of Melillo’s works is a celebration of the topography of his beloved East End home (that he replicates from old photographs and imagery) as well as his interpretation of photographs he took while he was stationed in Vietnam.

Primarily comprised of landscapes and seascapes, with a few portraits and still life pieces in the mix, Melillo’s works are on view at several different exhibits and receptions throughout the East End. Some are permanently showcased at several different Starbucks locations across the Hamptons. Melillo has won the Westhampton Beach Chamber of Commerce Art Poster Contest for two years in a row and his annual art exhibits in August at the Southampton Cultural Center have drawn hundreds of visitors each year.

When the Eastport resident came home from Vietnam at the near end of the war, he didn’t realize he was leaving one hostile environment for another.

“I never thought about it and spent the next 40 years or so running my business in Manhattan,” the disabled veteran says of his initial return to the states. “I was so removed from being a veteran.” That was, he says, until he retired, and “everything came at me at a fast forward speed.” The Eastport resident’s PTSD had been resting dormant within him for decades and once the hustle and bustle of work life ceased, it resurfaced in a big way. “I was having nightmares, daymares even,” he says. “I couldn’t get out of bed sometimes.”

He sought help for his PTSD at the Veteran’s Administration, where they gave him an aptitude test where he showcased natural talent and ability in both salesmanship and art. Shortly after, he enrolled in classes across Long Island and in New York City, most notably at SCC, the League, the School of Visual Arts, the New York Academy of Art and The Met, earning business certificates at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s. He learned how to hone his oil painting skills, becoming proficient in both form and technique, but maybe most importantly, he discovered the therapeutic benefits of painting allowed him to better cope with his condition.

His art workshops typically draw about a dozen or so participants. Working on a black canvas, each participant, including Melillo himself, ends the session with a finished painting after a process he describes as “going from the dark to the light.”

“I’m now at a point where I want to give back,” he says of his efforts. “My discovery of painting a mere seven years ago is truly a gift.

He debuted his “Life Goes On” series as a solo exhibition just before COVID hit back in early 2020 at New York University, eventually moving his exhibit to the South Fork — where his family heritage goes back to the 1890s — premiering at the Southampton Cultural Center in 2021. Now in its fourth year, “Life Goes On” will be on view at SCC from August 8 through August 25, with a special reception on August 15 honoring Paws of War, an organization that provides service dogs and training to veterans and first responders. A portion of the proceeds from Melillo’s “Life Goes On” exhibit will go to help support Paws of War. On August 25, Melillo will also work with Islandia based Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, an organization that specializes in therapeutic riding programs for individuals with disabilities.

For Melillo, the most important thing is for people who are suffering to be able to find solace.

“All of this is about doing something that’s good for yourself” he says. “I’m painting for solace. PTSD is not something you heal from, it’s something you learn how to deal with, and painting gives me a great sense of accomplishment and it gives me a great sense of self-worth.”