February 5, 2019 7:52 pm
Updated: February 6, 2019 10:38 am

Peterborough artist addresses opioid crisis through painting

In order to create meaningful work, artists need to seek out what they are passionate about. In the case of Peterborough artist Alex Bierk, it's about addressing the fact so many of his friends have been claimed by the opioid crisis.

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In order to create meaningful work, artists need to seek out what they are passionate about.

In the case of Peterborough artist, Alex Bierk, it’s about coming to terms with the fact so many of his friends have been claimed by the opioid crisis.

Bierk had just finished a 40-painting show in Toronto and was looking for a new subject. A recovering addict himself, the idea of exploring the opioid crisis through painting came to him while hanging out with friends as he worked in his downtown studio.

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READ MORE: Here are the Canadian cities with highest hospitalization rates for opioid poisonings in 2017

On the wall of Bierk’s Hunter Street Studio is a large painting of a bowl full of oxycontin tablets sitting on a coffee table. He created this a few years ago and is using it as a source for images for future works.

“I’m not saying I have an answer. I’m just involved in these sort of frivolous issues within the local art scene and the art world and the gravity of them versus the gravity of the situation of my friends — people I’ve grown up with — face, being addicted and overdosing and dyin, from drugs. It just seems that’s where I want to focus my attention within my practice as an artist,” says Bierk.

The Peterborough Aids Resource Network is a major player in the local effort to address the opioid crisis. Executive director Kim Dolan says a major step forward would be to stop finger-pointing at those struggling with addictions.

READ MORE: MPs debate how Canada should approach fighting fentanyl, opioid crises

“Addictions are protected disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code and if we remember that, it shifts, maybe, how we think about people who are really struggling with something. It’s not as though they have a weak character or that there’s a flaw, or that they don’t want to change,” said Dolan.

“There are so many things going on. How do you contemplate making a change in any one area? We need an entire system that’s responding in a way that’s respectful and humane, and guided by the people that are in it the deepest.”

Peterborough police say there were six suspected opioid overdose deaths in the city in the first few weeks of 2019. That compares to 19 in 2017, and 17 in 2018.

WATCH: Deputy police chief Tim Farquharson, reveals 2019 opioid overdose numbers

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