The Sunday Edition

Artists grapple with the complicated relationship between addiction and art

The image of the tortured, addicted, brilliant artist has deep historical roots, and has long held a touch of romance. In the age of the opioid crisis, it's losing its lustre. Peterborough's Electric City Culture Council recently hosted a roundtable discussion about art and addiction, including visual artists, actors, musicians and frontline workers. We share some of that conversation.
Lost a Friend to an Overdose (left) is an oil on linen painting by Canadian artist Alex Bierk, shown on the right. (Submitted by Alex Bierk, Joseph Hartman)
Listen16:58

The painting is small, with muted tones of grey and a chalky yellow. 

In the foreground, two 80-milligram OxyContin pills stand upright, hovering just above the surface of a table. Around them, other pills lie still.

The title? Lost a Friend to an Overdose.

Lost a Friend to an Overdose, an oil on linen painting by Canadian artist Alex Bierk is a portrait — of loss, of the wreckage caused by opioids, of Bierk's own life. 2:18

The oil on linen painting by Canadian artist Alex Bierk is a portrait: of loss, of the wreckage caused by opioids, of Bierk's own life.

His father was the renowned painter David Bierk, his mother a vibrant arts administrator. Three of his brothers are noted artists too.

When Bierk moved back to his hometown of Peterborough, Ont., the devastating toll of the drug crisis hit him in the face. Last year, Peterborough had the highest number of opioid deaths per capita in all of Ontario. As an artist and recovering addict, Bierk decided not to look away.

Bierk helps distribute Naloxone kits. He works with other addicts. He lends his time, his voice, his painting to the cause.

Recently, he teamed up with Peterborough's Electric City Culture Council, to host a roundtable discussion about art and addiction. Visual artists, actors, musicians and frontline workers gathered to take stock — and to grapple with the complicated relationship between addiction and art.

Click 'listen' above to hear the roundtable discussion.

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