By honouring their children through art, Chris Gardiner is helping parents process unbearable loss
'All I have to go on is my thinking, while I'm making the piece, that this means something'
The grief that comes with losing a child is unfathomable for most people who haven't experienced it. It's not lost on Saskatchewan artist Chris Gardiner, who is raising a child with disabilities and has held the worry that this could happen to him and his wife. That may be where he got the idea that perhaps his art could offer a little bit of illumination for parents who have gone through this incredible loss.
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As you'll see in this video by filmmaker Adrian Halter, Gardiner collaborates with parents who have lost a child with disabilities as part of his art practice. He asks the parents to box and send him items related to their child — he also asks to not know what they're sending inside the packages. He then takes those boxes and encases them, building layer after layer of beeswax and paint until they become shimmering three-dimensional paintings that take hours and hours of labour to complete.
Later, after he's exhibited the works, he'll offer them back to the families. Gardiner says, "At the end of it, I make no promise that it's going to work. It's just a process — it's part of any kind of grieving process. In my opinion, it's sometimes best to live with grief and be able to find some kind of relationship with it, as opposed to living with it in darkness. What I've promised is that I bring a light where there was darkness. But it's conceptual in that I'm going to help you hide something, but in plain sight."
Follow Chris Gardiner here. Gardiner sends special thanks to the Saskatchewan Arts Board for helping to fund his work.