How does a person begin to heal “when words aren’t enough”? Exploring this question is Leanne Draayer’s purpose in her Senior Studio solo show, The Hurt Room. While there is pain in the vignettes dealing with the themes of abuse, abandonment, breakup, trauma, and addiction, there is also a prominent sense of beauty throughout the artist’s work. It is in this quiet, calming beauty that Draayer’s work becomes a piece of therapy itself.
Walking into the gallery at the Seattle Pacific Art Center, you cannot ignore the Hurt Room. Blanketing the floor of the room are collaged textbook pages, to-do lists, graded papers, and stark white pieces of paper marked by single-word statements: “self-hate,” “lonely,” “lost.”
Initially, the visitor hesitates to step across the floor and enter the room. A ginger first-step eases anxiety and each proceeding step gains in assuredness and feels more stable. This interaction with the floor is a blatant symbol of the emotions a person has coming into therapy. Upon each visit, confidence grows and walking across the mess of anxiety laid across the floor becomes easier with practice.
When Draayer writes in her artist statement, “words aren’t enough” she is implying that art can express what is written on the floor in more complete, whole ways. The separate artworks on the walls consist of paintings, photographs, sculpture, and prints that speak to a single word. The viewer is given six small abstract paintings lined up horizontally and labeled by the word abuse and its definition. Amorphous orbs of deep violet, soft reds, and blue-green color are set against pale creamy skin-tone backgrounds. They are soft and sweet but also clearly images of wounds. Some are more recently inflicted, raw in their blood red centers; others are old and muted into rotting bruises.
In the next vignette, three photographs of an abandoned building set in a field are fittingly labeled “abandoned.” It’s a metaphor done before but Draayer’s composition is notable for her emphasis on the soft light that radiates through the collapsing roof and exposed beams and floods the broken structure.
One of the least immediately cohesive pieces in the show is a painting labeled “breakup.” The simple scene depicts a woman with her back turned to the viewer walking away on a receding pathway, leaving a man sitting with his head in hands. Blue fills in the spaces below and above the figures placed along the diagonal path. Although the piece feels as though it lacks a level of brevity in its simplicity, it serves as a point of connection between an overall evocation of basic human emotion that Draayer is successful in identifying and asking her viewers to identify in themselves. The breakup piece is composed of mostly blue space and it is in this coloristic abstraction that the most powerful therapy is found.
In black and white ink, Draayer collages images of explosions, war, and United States military emblems on four wood panels. Across all four panels is a unifying image of an army helmet. In this work exploring trauma, the sometimes blurred media images convey the deep confusion and sadness of post-traumatic stress disorder. While most people visiting the show will have personal connections to the ideas of abuse, abandonment, and breakup, their inexperience with PTSD and the themes of this kind of hurt serve as a good reminder of the difficulty one has when trying to help or sympathize with others in distress.
Reaching out of the wall is a sculpture of an arm made out of broken glass whose hand is gripped around a glass bottle. This piece reveals the distance and isolation of addiction; an experience that, like PTSD, is complex and lends itself to general misunderstandings.
Away from the walls of pain and the lone place where the floor of anxiety does not lay a foundation, a space is made for calm and quiet relationship. This is the “therapy” installation piece comprised of two chairs, one hard and one cushioned, facing each other in a space enclosed by rough and chipped glass windows and an old door but still open to its surroundings. Standing in this space, you still see and acknowledge the painful issues unearthed on the walls and laid bare on the ground outside but your perspective begins to change. Now, you are in the middle of it all with the company of someone else (the second chair) and peace from this new sense of meditative beauty. The Hurt Room approaches human suffering methodically; breaking down complex issues into visually simple works of art that ultimately speak multitudes and leave needed room for self-reflection.