Art as outreach

Street Health Centre hosts exhibit

John MacFarlane, who was charged with robbery, created fantastical art to endure the time he spent in prison.
John MacFarlane, who was charged with robbery, created fantastical art to endure the time he spent in prison.
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Low-key and indistinct from the outside, 173 Princess St. is a large, beautiful space, a former video rental store and is currently the home to an unusual art exhibit this week called Art On The Street, courtesy of the Street Health Centre.  

An outreach centre that provides medical and psychological care for people with addictions and living on the street, Kingston’s Street Health Centre is a place of refuge for Kingston residents facing tough times.  

Beyond the physical stress of homelessness and drug addiction, the centre also focuses on the mental and emotional distress of poverty and one facet of this is manifested through an art project. The centre takes their engagement with their clients to new levels with its Art On The Street exhibit, a concept that was realized last year to much success. Now an annual feature, the art exhibit shows off the artistic works of the centre’s clients. For many of the artists, Art On The Street is their first showing of their work, despite art being an important part of their lives.

“I’ve never had a show before and it’s a golden opportunity,” said John MacFarlane, artist and organizer.

MacFarlane joined the committee that puts on Art On The Street this year and contributed several of his pieces to the show. Personally, he brings his own experience with art and hard times to the project as an ex-convict who had always been interested in art and looked to it for salvation while in prison.

“Art became my whole existence when I was inside. … It takes you away from the prison, an addiction of sorts. I’ve done a few hundred [paintings],” he said.

Citing Dali as an inspiration, MacFarlane creates imaginative landscapes of bizarre and familiar images twisted by deftly executed vibrancy of colour—surrealism is a thread running through his pieces. You can feel the escapism in the fantastical worlds he creates, as MacFarlane borrows symbols, like animals, skulls and totem poles, from different cultures and fabricates innovative worlds for the mind that are both colourfully enticing and frightening.   Other works include portraits drawn by Felix Poulette, who creates stark depictions of women and men, both famous and unknown. A simple and solemn portrait of Mother Theresa is mounted by Poulette’s “Unfinished Business,” a rough yet beautiful-etched portrait of a women crouching. There’s talent, as well as raw honesty, in these drawings.

“A lot of these people are working from not very stable places,” MacFarlane said.

The experiences of the artists lend immensely to the art produced.  Photographs, paintings, drawings and multimedia pieces come together in this show and present material that brings to the forefront new content and subject matter.

Sarah de Ouden’s framed multi-media boxes, Shadow Box I and Shadow Box II stand like miniature altars to dreams. Smooth stones lie in the bottom of Shadow Box I and a sparkling sticker of Alice in Wonderland stand out as idyllic against text, a voice of reality that reads “Make sure your foot is in the door” and “Imagine a job that fits your life.” Admission is free of charge and many of the artists have their art on sale for the public. Providing a space for these artists, the Street Health Centre allows for marginalized voices to be heard through their art—voices that may otherwise get lost or ignored on the streets of Kingston.

MacFarlane joined Art On The Street this year and contributed several of his paintings to the show. As an ex-convict who had always been interested in art and looked to it for salvation while in prison, he brings his own life experiences to the project.

“Art became my whole existence when I was inside. … It takes you away from the prison, an addiction of sorts. I’ve done a few hundred [paintings],” he said.

Citing Dali as an inspiration, MacFarlane creates imaginative landscapes of bizarre and familiar images twisted by deftly executed vibrancy of colour—surrealism is a thread running through his pieces. You can feel the escapism in the fantastical worlds he creates, as MacFarlane borrows symbols such as animals, skulls and totem poles from different cultures and fabricates innovative worlds for the mind that are both colourfully enticing and frightening.   Other works in the exhibit include portraits drawn by Felix Poulette, who creates stark depictions of women and men, both famous and unknown. A simple and solemn portrait of Mother Theresa is mounted by Poulette’s “Unfinished Business,” a rough yet beautiful-etched portrait of a women crouching. There’s talent, as well as raw honesty, in these drawings.

“A lot of these people are working from not very stable places,” MacFarlane said.

The artists’ experience lend to the art produced.  Photographs, paintings, drawings and multimedia pieces come together in this show and present material that brings to the forefront new content and subject matter.

Sarah de Ouden’s framed multi-media boxes, Shadow Box I and Shadow Box II stand like miniature altars to dreams. Smooth stones lie in the bottom of Shadow Box I and a sparkling sticker of Alice in Wonderland stand out as idyllic against text, a voice of reality that reads “Make sure your foot is in the door” and “Imagine a job that fits your life.” Admission is free of charge and many of the artists have their art on sale for the public. Providing a space for these artists, the Street Health Centre allows for marginalized voices to be heard through their art—voices that may otherwise get lost or ignored on the streets of Kingston.

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