Artist heals families through powerful portraits of gun violence victims
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville artist said she grew up around gun violence. To help her cope, Jaylin Stewart started painting portraits of the victims she knew. Now Stewart uses the strokes of her paint brush to help others.
"I've been affected by gun violence my entire life,” said Stewart.
The self-taught artist started painting in high school around the time her cousin and two best friends were shot and killed. Last year, Stewart lost five people to gun violence.
"When I lose people that are supporting me it just hurts," Stewart said.
Stewart, who has kept sketching faces every time a life is lost, said she has lost count of how many victims she has painted but knows she's painted hundreds. Stewart also said she knew at least half of the people she's brushed onto a canvas.
"A lot of places where these crimes happened,” said Stewart. “These neighborhoods, different areas is where I spent my early teens and childhood. They get younger and younger every time I paint them."
Stewart felt the pain with each stroke on her latest piece.
Robin'Dion O'Bryant had dreams of joining the National Guard and becoming a federal prosecutor. Her dreams were cut short when she was shot and killed while getting a ride home from a friend a month before her 18th birthday. Her mom said the suspect, Shawn Hollinsworth, 18, was a former elementary school classmate.
Linda Gibson, O'Bryant's mother, said the last picture she has of her daughter is in a casket. What she didn't know walking into Stewart's studio was that Stewart was recreating a new image of O'Bryant. Gibson was brought to tears when she got a first glimpse of her daughter’s portrait.
"When I say this embodies everything from the smile her eyes, her eyebrow, her hair everything,” said Gibson.
Gibson said she felt her daughter spirit through the cheekbones, smiles and creases that Stewart brought back to life.
"I'm living through my trauma working through my trauma,” Stewart said.
Stewart is also helping others along the way. Etching victims' souls and stories onto a backdrop that will brings to light to the violence that's devastating her community.
Hollinsworth, who was charged with O'Bryant's murder on her 18th birthday, is due back in court in late January.
Stewart gives each of the completed portraits to victims’ families. She will be showing her work at the Flux Gallery on February 8 and hosting a solo show in the summer.
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