Outsider Artist

by Beverly Cramp, Galleries West Magazine
Republished with permission of the author

Gallery Gachet, which supports marginalized artists in Vancouver, helps Teresa Pocock, an artist with Down syndrome, launch her second book.

Teresa Pocock celebrates her exhibition and book launch at Gallery Gachet in Vancouver. (Photo by Billiam James)

Artist-run centre Gallery Gachet was filled recently with bright drawings and celebratory poems by Teresa Pocock, a stark contrast to the grubby and littered streets outside in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood, where many of the city’s homeless and drug-addicted citizens live.

Pocock likes primary colours and often incorporates text so exuberant it makes visitors smile. “I like the flavour of everything,” begins one of her poems. “Chocolate cake. Coke Zero. I love cranberry sauce and cranberry juice, and chicken pie.”

The four-day show [August 2-5, 2018], Pocock’s second at a space known for its work to encourage healing and empower marginalized artists, was set up to launch her second book, Totally Amazing: Free to Be Me. It’s an inspiring account of how she has fought to let her creativity blossom.

Pocock was born with Down syndrome. Her mother supported her in numerous ways, arranging for regular exercise and enrolling her in a private school that she attended for 12 years. Pocock, who lived with her parents in Ontario, flourished in this nourishing environment.

But after her mother died in 1999, her father took care of Pocock. But eventually, in 2013, when Pocock was 49, she was declared “incapable” of making her own decisions and placed briefly in a long-term care facility that houses elderly people.

“The nurses at the home told me Teresa cried every day and did almost nothing,” says her sister, Franke James, also an artist.

Teresa’s father, a retired lawyer, was in poor health, but managed to get her out of the care facility and took her to live with James. Within a year, James and her husband had moved to Vancouver with Pocock, hoping to build a better life.

Teresa Pocock poses with her sister, Franke James. (Photo by Billiam James)

Teresa Pocock poses with her sister, Franke James. (Photo by Billiam James)

As James writes in the introduction to Totally Amazing, British Columbia is better for Teresa “because it recognizes her legal right to make her own decisions.”

In Vancouver, Pocock began a regular practice of writing and making art. In addition to calling herself an artist and author, Pocock is a self-advocate. She’s not shy to speak up for herself and in 2016, she asked the Ontario government for an apology.

It was made in a statement to Global TV by Eric Hoskins, then the province’s health minister, but not directly to Pocock. So she sent a handwritten letter to the minister, asking him to write to her personally. Later that year, she received his written apology.

Teresa Pocock stands in front of the hand-written letter she sent to the Ontario government. (Photo by Billiam James)

Teresa Pocock stands in front of the hand-written letter she sent to the Ontario government. (Photo by Billiam James)

Pocock continues to draw and write every day at the dining room table. Once, when she was asked her to clear away her art supplies to make room for dinner, she joked: “But I’ll lose my job.”

Pocock is a participating artist at the Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival, a free event that runs Aug. 10 to Aug. 12 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. The festival, organized by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, features art and performances by those who identify as outsiders for a host of reasons, including mental health issues and differences in physical abilities.

To see more of Pocock’s work, visit totallyamazing.ca. ■

Visitors check out Teresa Pocock’s art and writing at Gallery Gachet. (Photo by Melissa Newbery)

Visitors check out Teresa Pocock’s art and writing at Gallery Gachet. (Photo by Melissa Newbery)

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