Painting Path to Recovery
Deal with this violence: Painter forces viewers to grapple with collective pain, suffering
By Stephanie Ip, The Province April 23, 2013
Blood. Tears. Flames, mayhem and seared flesh.
In recent days, it’s become impossible to avoid images of pain and suffering.
Photos from Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings show victims being rushed to hospital, clutching what would soon be unimaginably horrific amputations for many. Other images show blood splattered down the sidewalk of Boylston Street.
Then on Wednesday, a fertilizer company in rural Texas was torched by an earth-shaking explosion that injured dozens, their agony unheard by first responders who, at first, couldn’t get close enough to help due to the flames.
A video of the incident circulating online shows the building engulfed by the blaze only seconds before the deafening explosion rocks a car carrying the videographer and his daughter. The smartphone filming the scene is fumbled and the screen goes dark before a small voice can be heard.
“Dad. Get out of here. Please, get out of here,” repeats the panicked child, urging her dad to drive away from the scene.
“Oh my god. Please, get out of here.”
That discomfort, uncertainty and fear is what Vancouver painter James Picard hopes to provoke in those who see the work in his exhibition, The Dark and The Wounded.
The pieces in the collection feature deep and wonderfully rich images depicting terrible things, some loosely related to or inspired by current events. The venues for the exhibition are equally eerie — the Vancouver première of his show took place last October in Coquitlam’s shuttered Riverview Psychiatric Hospital.
Next week, Picard will take the exhibition to Los Angeles, where his work will be displayed in the abandoned 100-year-old Lincoln Heights Jail, closed since 1965. He’s also in talks to host the exhibition on the infamous Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.
The result of such gruesome pieces in haunting locations is an unsettling of the viewer’s every sense and emotion, forcing one to look deeper into the pain and suffering that makes us uncomfortable, and how we can move beyond it.
“The idea of wounds is that, when we don’t look at it, we don’t deal with it. It festers and becomes infected,” Picard shared with The Province. “The same thing goes for the human psyche.
“By not looking at these wounds — these dark areas of humanity — they never get the chance to heal.”
The 49-year-old, who also teaches at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, is no stranger to moving outside of his comfort zone.
As a child, he doodled under his sheets by flashlight, since there was little support in his home for his fledging artistic talent. That cocoon, however, perhaps provided more than just a hidden canvas — it also gave a small boy a sense of protection.
Picard was raised in an abusive home by an alcoholic father. Then when he was 19, his sister — whom he calls his “war buddy”, citing their difficult childhood together — was killed in a random act of violence in New York.
“For me, a lot of these wounds can happen during childhood. There are things we do to survive in childhood — we develop defence mechanisms,” he said. If children aren’t counselled or given the chance to heal from these afflictions, Picard believes, it could evolve into an adult tendency to turn a blind eye when faced with challenges and difficulties.
For Picard, his path to recovery was through the process of painting, and exploring what wounds remained in himself. In his piece titled Apparitions, viewers stare into the pallid faces of young schoolchildren, sitting shoulder to shoulder, row by row. Their clothing is colourful, but their expressions are blank and mournful, awash in grey.
“It’s interesting when children have their photos taken — they’re innocent but there’s a lot of stuff there that we can’t see,” Picard said, noting the piece is meant to imitate school portraits and the secret home lives children lead.
Then only days after completing the piece, Picard was in L.A. and turned on his hotel room TV to see news reports of the Sandy Hook shooting that killed twenty children and six adults.
Instantly, he knew that was what the painting was meant to communicate and has made the connection in every exhibition of the piece since the December 2012 shooting.
“As an artist and a human being, I look around the world and see all these horrible things happening and all these terrible things that keep happening,” said Picard. “We’re not getting deep enough … to figure out what’s going on here. One of our problems is that we live for a bit and then we get distracted and then we don’t focus on it anymore.”
Picard hopes that drawing on the subject matters seen in current events and around the world will help each person find a common thread in his exhibition, forcing the audience to keep pertinent issues at the forefront of the collective conscience.
“If we look at our wounds and find solutions to solve them, these wouldn’t be reoccurring things. It would’ve ended at Columbine,” he said, citing the various shootings that have continued since the 1999 massacre.
“We have to stop and communicate and talk about this and come to an understanding with ourselves and each other.
“This is my own intervention.”
Picard plans to bring The Dark and The Wounded back to Vancouver for another exhibition in the fall. For more updates on the tour and his work, visit jamespicard.com.