Blog / 2014 / A Very Personal Public Art Piece
July 21, 2014
These days, I’m working intensively on a mural that’s a portrait of Portland street performer and comedian, Kirk Reeves. It’s my first piece of public art that was conceived of as a public artwork. The City of Portland also owns this piece and this one too as part of its portable art collection, but they were not painted with that collection in mind.
Given that this is my first truly public art project, it’s funny that I chose such a personal subject. Because, although it may not be immediately clear how the portrait of a man I knew only slightly is personal for me, it really is.
Kirk struggled with diabetes and with the medical bills that came from not always keeping up with his illness, and this is a story that I understand only too well. In 2009, I ended up in the ER after ignoring my body’s signals for several years. While there, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. Since then, I’ve struggled more than ever with the disease, with finding the right way to treat it, and with the bills that accompany an illness that has no cure.
But the connection between our stories runs deeper than that too. Whenever someone you know takes their own life as Kirk did, it’s difficult to fully understand: why did he do it? What could I have done differently? Will I do it too?
Life is beautiful and life is also a struggle. Finding the balance between these two—finding the beauty in the struggle and acknowledging the struggle in the beauty—is not easy.
I’ve always had difficulties relating with others. I’m shy and I have social anxieties. Most of the time, I cover well, and a lot of the time I even feel well, but not always.
After I was diagnosed with endometriosis, things only got worse. The main daily medicine for this disease is hormones, a treatment that steals all my rainbows. The dosages I was given throughout 2010 introduced in my brain an obsessive habit of thinking about ending my own life.
To be clear, this isn’t a cry for help. I am okay and, when I’m not, I have an amazing support network that is intimately aware of my issues. So, it’s not cry for help: it’s honesty. I know I’m not alone in my struggles, and I think that if we could all talk about it more openly we might all feel a lot better.
As far as I can tell from the mass emails that he would send out regularly, Kirk never felt truly validated as an artist. While I don’t know how much this contributed to his choice to kill himself, I certainly see a connection.
Being an artist is hard. And Kirk has come to embody that truth in my mind. This mural I’m painting is intended to honor him and his story, but it’s dedicated to struggling artists everywhere.