Gallery for artists with disabilities showcases local woman’s reaction to Floyd murder

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Inside a drawer at the Interact art studio, you’ll find a treasure trove of works from Janice Essick.  

“She is passionate about creating, every day she creates,” smiles art instructor Simone Needles.  

“Her drawings and paintings could say about more of us than a person could say verbally,” adds Interact gallery director Brittany Kieler.

For 17 years now, Essick, 63, has been painting and drawing at Interact, a St. Paul studio and gallery for artists with disabilities.

We wondered how long she’s been painting.

“Since I was a kid,” Essick says. “I just like to draw and stuff, and paint.”

Now she has her first solo art show, called “This is a Picture that Janice Made.”

“She is a woman who is proud of her work, who’s proud of how she looks,” Needles declares. “She wants to be seen as beautiful and hard-working, and as a confident artist, putting her artwork out into the community.”

Among Essick’s works on display is a group of four pieces she painted after the murder of George Floyd.

“I didn’t like that,” she says quietly. “I didn’t think it was right.”

“I see scenes of unrest, I see a woman recording some of her own personal memories and responding in a very personal way. That impacted such a large community,” Kieler notes.

Recording — and reporting — with brush, paint and canvas.

Essick’s work is visceral and emotional. There is darkness and light. Her favorite is a deep green untitled piece.

“It’s a lady, and she has a hat on her,” Essick explains. “Like different colors. Think I saw it in a book or something.”

There’s also a group of light-colored works that are renderings of horses she rode as a child, growing up in Milwaukee.  

“The exhibition is really showing the many sides of Janice,” Kieler says. “We’re all — humans are complicated beings, and I think this show gives you a great sense of different aspects of Janice’s life that are really important to her.”

Interact, a nonprofit, has provided a venue for artists with disabilities since 1996. Hundreds of painters and performers have displayed their work over the years.

“They create, they’re artists,” Needles explains. “We allow a place for them to build their skills, to get their work seen.”

Interact says participating artists have qualified for Minnesota Department of Human Services waivers. Those waivers pay for their time working at the studio, Kieler says.

At Interact, the artists split the proceeds 50/50 with the studio, which they say is standard practice in the art world.

Essick herself is prolific, painting three to four pieces a week.

“I like painting, using magic markers and stuff like that,” she says. “I just ask them if they’d like to buy my work and they say, ‘Yeah.’”

Kieler says Essick has sold 15 of her 35 paintings on display. Essick’s solo show runs through April 27.

“Every day it’s really an honor and privilege to represent these artists,” Kieler says. “The work is incredible. I think more people need to see it, and it’s of incredible value.”