GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids-based artist Nicholas Hartman wants you to talk about your feelings.

He’s hoping his piece “I Want You…,” a ghoulish twist on a classic American poster that’s featured at the Grand Rapids Art Museum for ArtPrize 2023, will do the trick.

Hartman began with the classic image of Uncle Sam, which was used during the world wars to recruit for the U.S. army.

A photo from the Library of Congress of a war poster used to recruit soldiers during World War I. The poster was originally created in 1917 by James Montgomery Flagg.
A photo from the Library of Congress of a war poster used to recruit soldiers during World War I.

But instead of the traditional text, “I want you for U.S. Army,” Hartman replaced the words on the poster. His piece reads, “I want you to talk about your feelings.”

“And where (Uncle Sam’s) face is, I drew over it, and I used my image of a ghoul,” he said.

The face can be jarring, he said.

“The face that is on there is the representation of the face of anxiety,” Hartman explained. “Anxiety’s not beautiful.”

"I Want You..." by Nicholas Hartman. (Courtesy Chapel of Ghouls)
“I Want You…” by Nicholas Hartman. (Courtesy Chapel of Ghouls)

It’s all part of Hartman’s larger art project, Chapel of Ghouls.

“The Chapel of Ghouls is kind of an exploration of my anxieties, depression, hypochondria, fears of life, all of that,” he said.

Hartman told News 8 that the project’s signature ghoul image stemmed from his experience during panic attacks, which he used to have “a lot.”

“And when I had these panic attacks, I would start drawing. And I realized throughout time when I was having these, I was drawing the same image. It was the same ghoul face,” he said. “And I realized it was more of like (the ghoul) wasn’t me, it was my anxiety coming out.”

As Hartman became more open about his experiences, he said he noticed a change.

“I really believe the more I started sharing, the more I started talking about it, the better I felt,” Hartman said.

He told News 8 he wanted to encourage others to do the same with “I Want You…”

“That image of Uncle Sam is powerful. He’s pointing right at you,” Hartman said. “If you’re struggling, if you have suicidal thoughts, if you’re a hypochondriac, If you just have daily anxieties, talk to someone. Because there’s no shame in it.”

When Hartman first created the piece around 2021, he printed out posters and began to put them all over Grand Rapids. He said he wanted to mimic the war propaganda feeling of the original Uncle Sam poster.

“If you look back at World War II …  you’d have these, like, war propaganda posters put up, like, ‘fight for your country’ kind of thing,” Hartman said. “So it was the idea of playing with that. Like, ‘Fight for your mental health.'”

At the GRAM for ArtPrize 2023, he did the same thing, hanging hundreds of posters of all different sizes across the building.

With time, they will deteriorate, Hartman told News 8 — and that, too, is intentional.

“I want to have rips in them,” he said. “So like, going back to that World War II time frame: Walking down the street, posters slowly start getting ripped off.”

While his message of openness and vulnerability is not only directed toward veterans, he said veterans are a big part of it.

“They are trained in the military to be tough, to not talk about their feelings,” Hartman said. “Then they get out.”

Many veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Hartman, and many turn to addiction. Some are even forgotten about.

“And that’s really sad to me,” he said. “Because our government tells them, ‘Hey, go fight for our country.’ Then they get out and they don’t get the health care they need.”

But for veterans and nonveterans alike, openness can help, he said.

“Enough is enough, you know?” Hartman said. “The more we talk about it, the better we’re going to feel. And the better we’re going to be as a society if we open up about our feelings.”