By Casey Crow
Special to The PREVIEW
On Sept. 29, local nonprofit Rise Above Violence will host its third annual art exhibit and auction titled Art Above Violence: Voices Rise.
The event seeks to challenge the culture of silence that often surrounds experiences of sexual assault and domestic violence. The show uses a variety of artistic mediums to break this silence and bring healing to survivors by transforming their stories into works of art. Among this year’s featured artists are Markus Hughes and Diane Davis.
According to him, Hughes did not choose art, but art chose him. He currently works primarily in oil and acrylic painting, but also works in charcoal, mixed media and more. Ironically, despite the focus on his painting, Hughes did not take a single painting class in his collegiate art studies, nor has he taken one to this day. He enjoys using a variety of tools and draws inspiration from the work of Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet. Hughes often uses small strokes and vibrant colors to bring his work to life.
“Art is something I didn’t really choose, it chose me, and I feel very blessed and lucky to do what I do. It’s not like it comes easy to me. With every single piece, with every single painting, there is an element of frustration, but that’s what leads to a great reward. The reward of having done something beautiful that touches people’s lives,” he said.
The Art Above Violence event is one that Hughes finds particularly moving, which has led him to participate since 2016.
“For me, it’s a great inspiration to branch out and do things I wouldn’t normally do, and to support the cause,” he said.
Last year’s piece by Hughes was crafted to reflect feminine power and the balance that exists in both nature and people. The painting portrays a woman with her arm outstretched, reaching to her spirit animal the hawk, while the hawk’s spirit is coming out to touch her in return.
Similarly, this year’s work draws on themes of feminine power, the female spirit in nature (Mother Nature), equality and balance.
“I wanted to show off that no matter what — if you’ve been abused, beaten down — there is still a part of you, a part of everyone, that is very strong. And there is still part of the community that embraces that strength within each person.”
Also among the talented artists of Voice Rise is Davis. Davis holds a bachelor’s and master’s in the arts from Purdue University, where she worked previously as a professor. Davis focused primarily on metal smithing with an emphasis on sculpture and jewelry design.
Now retired to Pagosa since 1999, Davis centers her work on felting, which she loves for the tactile component and water-like images. She works in both wet and dry felting techniques, and uses mostly sheep and alpaca fiber. In addition to enjoying her professional artistic pursuits, Davis teaches felting classes to adults and 4-H students.
By participating in the Art Above Violence show for the second time, Davis aims to celebrate the courage of survivors. She believes that art has the ability to take away some of the pain these individuals have experienced. Her piece from the 2016 show highlighted the strength and transformation of the survivor.
“What I wanted to show was more of the courage and evolution, the way that people have come to deal with or support themselves in the process,” she said. “You could read some of the pain that was there, but there was something going beyond that. It’s more hopeful.”
Given the recent emergence of the Me Too movement, Davis hopes that more people will be willing to attend Voices Rise and embrace survivor stories with compassion.
“It’s really easy to be judgmental if you’ve not had to walk that path. Don’t pass judgment, just be compassionate, because I don’t think one can totally understand,” she explained.
A survivor once expressed to Davis that in such situations you are constantly fluctuating between fight or flight, and in the process it is easy to become lost and confused. For those who have not been in that moment, it can be difficult to understand. Davis explained she thinks it is important for the community to embrace these complex stories with compassion. In doing so, there is potential to break the chain of abuse and silence.
Although the exhibit is based on real challenges faced by members of our community, the ultimate aim is to bring hope and healing through storytelling and artistic expression. Voices Rise celebrates the courage and resiliency of the human spirit, all the while bringing world-class artistry to the Pagosa Springs community.
According to Hughes, “It’s a very powerful, very moving event in the sense that there is a lot of inspiration. It’s neat to see exactly what inspires the artists and what they do from that inspiration and what they bring to the show. It’s very powerful based on the cause. It’s also powerful to see the actual people that have been affected and how the art moves them.”
We encourage you to support both the artists and survivors by attending Voices Rise on Sept. 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. The evening will include live music, performance art and visual art of all kinds. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $45 for VIP.