Monday, October 3, 2016

49 Portraits at Gatlin Creative.

On September 24th, the 49 portraits of Pulse victims were on display at Gatlin Creative (4940 South Orange Avenue Orlando FL) about a mile south of Pulse. I drove past the club to the opening. A new colorfull banner now covers the fence surrounding the club. I had just screened my short film, "Finger on the Pulse" at the Global Peace Film Festival. Vicki Nantz had allowed me to share the screen with her 18 minute documentary about her feelings after the Pulse tragedy. The screening was at The Gallery at Avalon Island which has a mini theater on the second floor. We held a talk back after the film that went on for over an hour. It seems everyone needed a forum to express the shock, horror and frustrations about how slow change can be. Vicki and her wife have faced open hatred for being lesbians. Someone actually threatened to kill them. Orlando is home to several well known hate groups. Since Pulse, Orlando has made a shift towards being more open and caring but there is still a long way to go. I was shocked to find myself sharing my thoughts and feelings openly in front of the audience. Both Vicki and I both broke down several times as we tried to express what drove us. Vicki invited down a psychologist to help us moderate. Mallory Vance was back a her parents place in the Mid-west and her description of her small town's reaction, made it clear that the effects of the Pulse shooting are wide spread. Was the community conversation healing? I'm not sure, but I got to share thoughts that have haunted me, and the incredible love and support in the room was palpable.

As I arrived at the 49 Portraits opening, the sky to the west was ablaze in a gorgeous orange glow with huge billowing clouds. Tiffany Windsor was at the entrance collecting the $15 entrance fee. The 49 portraits filled the warehouse space perfectly in a single row hung clothes line style. The warm evening breeze kept the portraits fluttering as if they wanted to take flight. Channel 2 News was shooting footage for the evening news. I spoke to the reporter on camera and then invited another artist, Bob Hague to do the same. A Japanese TV station and UCF TV also showed up.

Cory James Connell age 21, was the first Pulse victim portrait I did. His parents Tara and James Connell came to the opening along with Cory's grand parents and sisters. I got to meet the entire family and I'm humbled by their outward show of strength. Tara actually invited me to their home. As I worked on Cory's portrait, a man looking over my shoulder had related details about the young man that brought him alive in my minds eye.  I am hoping that the Connell family will also share their memories.

People paused in front of sketches and took photos. I could see some getting choked up and wiping away tears. I wanted to meet them all, but also felt they deserved privacy. A young woman took me to the portrait of a dear friend, Luis Omar Occasion-Capo. This portrait was painted by Mitch Scott. She thanked me for helping keep his memory alive. I also got to meet Wilma and her son. Her son's father, and her longtime best friend and salsa partner, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado was drawn by Betsy Brabrandt. Xavier was the first portrait drawn by Betsy in about 25 years. She was a fashion illustrator in NYC, but when she moved to Orlando, her art took a back seat to raising a family. Wilma talked about how Xavier taught her everything she knows about Salsa dancing. She had never danced in heals but Xavier showed her how. She very well could have gone to Pulse that night but she was tired. How is it that the few artists in attendance got to meet the families of the person they drew. There really is some greater force at work.

The money raised from this showing of the portraits is going into framing the pieces.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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