Face of Defense: Sailor-Artist Creates Legacy Aboard USS Kidd
AT SEA ABOARD USS KIDD, Nov. 30, 2017 — The passageways aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Kidd have very few variations to the color scheme. The walls, known as bulkheads, are covered with layers of off-white or gray paint, typical of any Navy vessel. Yet there are some exceptions.
Scattered throughout the ship are colorful paintings on doors and hatches depicting a myriad of scenes including a skull with a crossed sledgehammer and axe, and a master-at-arms insignia with weathered depth and detail. Far from a printed picture slapped on a door, these are real works of art, and they're all thanks to the work of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Juan Morales, a fire controlman who hails from Orange County, California.
Morales said he has a storied history in regard to his skills -- artistic talent runs in his family. He and his younger siblings began sketching and drawing from a young age.
"Each [sibling] has their own level of drawing and their own style, but they are all good," he said. "The skill probably came from my mom's side, and it was passed down to us."
Morales said he developed his own style and skill before joining the Navy, and that the majority of his artwork is on display for the whole Navy to see.
"Before I joined the Navy, I would draw for people, but I never did any major projects," he said. "It wasn't until I got to boot camp that I did big projects. I painted offices and ladderwells for the [recruit division commanders] and some work during my "A" school as well. I see people come back from the schoolhouse with photos, and I know that I painted where they stood."
Morales previously was stationed at both Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois and the Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He has completed more than 300 artistic projects for various Navy commands and ships since he enlisted in March 2012.
His current projects range from departmental door paintings to personal drawings and tattoo designs for crew members. "I find myself constantly wanting to draw," he said. "I have drawings all over my notebooks and binders. Drawing is a huge stress release and helps me focus more in the long run. Any chance I get, I draw."
His most iconic drawing on Kidd is the Jolly Roger on the rear of the 5-inch gun on the ship's forecastle. The piece took more than eight hours to complete, and Morales used a liberty day during a port visit to ensure it was finished.
"People came back to the ship and told me that I lost out on all that liberty and I didn't even realize it," he said.
Morales' work extends beyond the bulkheads of ships. He has volunteered to paint elementary schools in the San Diego and Everett, Washington, areas. "It was nice to go and complete the projects at schools because my children were attending the schools as well," he said. "The kids took a genuine interest in the work and helped out as well."
Back home, Morales continued his volunteer work by teaching art classes at schools. Morales taught basic artistic principles to students and incorporated different cultures' artistic styles.
"Based on a nationality, I would tailor the art that was taught," he explained. "For example, we would teach abstract art with an Asian twist. That was the end project, but I would teach how to texture and how to blend colors."
Morales taught the classes for nearly two years, totaling more than 600 hours helping students develop their own artistic abilities. With no formal art training, Morales said, he feels his artistic works are more spontaneous than planned.
"I don't consider myself an artist," he added. "I simply enjoy replicating what I see or what I want to see. It's a challenge for me, and I figure out what I'm doing as I go."
With or without formal training, Morales said, he wants to continue to grow his artistic skills, including exploring the digital realm. But for now, he added, he's happy to create works of art that bring a smile or a proud head nod to the sailors assigned to the various divisions aboard Kidd -- a splash of color and a source of pride on a U.S. Navy ship at sea.