Jessica A. McVicker will be sharing her story of childhood abuse – and how painting helped her heal – for the first time on the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre stage Thursday night.
The painter spent her early years up until her 20s in a world of chronic sexual, physical and emotional abuse. When she finally escaped, she told Yellowknifer she felt extremely alone, isolated and rejected.
Now an accomplished working artist, McVicker wants to share a message of hope through her chosen artistic medium of acrylics on pine board.
“People do emerge from these situations, they can emerge whole and as people who have grown from these experiences,” she said.
Thursday, she plans to guide the audience through what she calls a visual tour of her life, through the paintings she has been creating since the beginning of the year.
It is a way of sharing a story she has only done once before through poetry. Back then, sharing was a way to protect herself from abusers she had recently escaped.
Now, 15 years later, sharing her story takes on a new meaning. Healing, closure, forgiveness and building confidence are all ongoing processes for McVicker.
“I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly dark for people,” she said. “I wanted it to talk to people instead of make them cringe.”
The pieces are metaphorical, painted in different styles and depicting aspects of her experience including spirituality, thoughts of suicide, hopes and dreams.
“It’s not just about dealing with the darkness, you have to also deal with the light in life to really feel like it’s not all dark,” she said.
When she started the project earlier this year, she imagined it being a therapeutic experience. What she found was a much more difficult process than she had originally imagined.
“It’s been super painful to work on it and I’ve gone through bouts of depression, bouts of doubt,” she said. “Do people really want to hear about this? Is this something that’s good for me to talk about? Is this going to be disruptive for me or is this going to be beneficial for me? And these are questions that I’ve talked about with my partner and my friends and myself.”
One positive outcome for McVicker is the ability to speak more openly about her life. Many of the pieces were painted in front of visitors at her JAMmed Studio, allowing her to test out how it felt to speak openly about the abuse she faced.
“A big thing about, especially sexual abuse, is that it’s a big secret and it’s something that you feel incredible shame about,” she said. “Even in later parts of your life that shame follows you and it’s something that is taboo to talk about. And it’s something that also you need to talk about to heal from.”
Thursday night’s show is a test run for McVicker, after which she will decide whether to display the paintings elsewhere.
McVicker is a multi-platform visual artist who has worked in printmaking, illustration, graphic novels and stone sculpture before leaning towards what she is perhaps most well known for – her acrylic Northern landscapes.
McVicker studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design before relocating to Yellowknife from B.C.