Darrell Blanks and Amanda Owens paint for different reasons.
Blanks’ art eases physical pain — he is diabetic and has arthritis in his spine. “Painting relaxes me, which helps with the pain,” he said.
Owens paints to work things out in her mind. She lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, and painting allows her the chance to back away from the mental noise that sometimes overwhelms her, to organize her thoughts, and make sense of the world around her.
“It’s an escape for me,” she said. “I work things out in my head when I’m painting, almost without realizing it. Whatever is going on in my world, good, bad and indifferent, I work out my issues, and I put it on the canvas.”
The two both had paintings selected for the Brush with Burden Juried Art Show, which opens March 21 with an opening reception for artists from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. All works will be hanging March 22-29, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The best of show in each category will be on display through April.
This year’s theme was The Nature and Culture of Louisiana, said Margaret Blades, who chairs the Brush With Burden committee at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, where the exhibit will take place.
But what makes the accomplishment even more remarkable is the obstacles Blanks and Owens must overcome just to get to the studio, said Elizabeth Whitley, who hosts a weekly painting session at their “studio,” which is really just a community meeting room at the One Stop Drop In Center, run by the Capital Area Alliance For the Homeless in Mid City. The homeless artists who use the sessions to paint take turns setting up before and cleaning up after the sessions.
The sessions are well-attended, she said, with a core group of about 5 to 10 painters and sculptors of differing skill levels, and almost all are either homeless or on the edge of homelessness.
Blanks lives camping out where he can, and Owens, who just found an apartment, was also camping outside a couple of weeks ago.
“People have no idea how fast they can find themselves in our situation,” Owens said. “Everybody has their own reason for being here.”
The six artists seated around the table on March 11 all nod, adding to the chorus of stories they’ve heard, or lived. People have gotten laid off suddenly, gotten sick, had a loved one get sick or die — the list goes on.
Once you’ve lost your address, everything else becomes more difficult — getting medicine, getting paychecks, applying for jobs, keeping a cell phone active. There is plenty of judgment around homelessness, Owens said, but she doesn’t see the point, especially having been on this side of it.
Anyone who says homelessness is for those who are unwilling to work, she said, has no concept of how much work being homeless actually is.
Blanks agreed. “I had all my stuff in a tent — a sketch book, a few paintbrushes, my blanket, my clothes. Someone stole everything a couple of weeks ago. Everything I had,” he said.
Part of what Whitley’s sessions offer the One Stop Artist Group, as they’ve decided to call themselves, is a space to paint, a space to store supplies and works in progress, and a place to offer art for sale.
Proceeds from the sale goes directly to the artists, Whitley said.
The center also sells sets of notecards with One Stop Artist Group prints on the front for $12 a pack. Proceeds from those sales support Capital Area Alliance For the Homeless.
“We call it a class, but really, it’s just a space and time for them to paint,” Whitley said, adding that she and Warren Green, a longtime volunteer at the center, both volunteer through St. James Church.
Green, who is in his 80s and an artist and woodworker in his own right, also makes frames for the artwork once completed.
Whitley, who also had artwork selected for the Brush with Burden show, took pieces that Green had framed during the class and put them on the walls of the meeting room, with cards naming the artist, the work and the price of the painting posted beside each piece.
The work styles differ as greatly as the stories the artists tell, and Whitley said she loves walking into the space.
Blanks, who has never had any formal art training, said his first sketch was of a lamb. “I was real young. I saw this lost lamb (in a drawing), and I didn’t want the lamb to be lonely, so I drew another one,” he said. He likes to get lost in his paintings, he said, adding detail until it feels done.
Owens had always drawn, but she hadn’t tried painting until 2010.
“I never thought I had a talent for it,” she said, laughing.
When a hard thump to the table made everyone pull paint-loaded brushes back from their canvases with a gasp, they took it in stride.
“That’s what I love about working in paint. It doesn’t matter. If you mess up, you just paint over it and start over. It’s aggravating, but it’s nothing you can’t fix,” she said.
While several of the artists in the group have been featured in the National Alliance on Mental Illness art show in Baton Rouge, which promotes awareness about mental illness, Whitley said, she hopes their inclusion in the juried art show at Burden will spark more interest in the work being produced at the center.
To see more examples of the artwork created at the One Stop, visit the alliance’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ onestopartists.