By Rick McVicar
The pain of watching opioids consume and take the life of a sister has infused artist William Stoehr with resolve to stamp out the stigma attached to drug addiction.
According to Stoehr’s website, his sister Emma died from an overdose in 2012 at the age of 57. Stoehr has been a full-time painter since 2004. He had previously worked as an engineer for National Geographic, directing the company’s mapping service.
After his sister’s death, the artist began painting the faces of others he met who were either survivors or witnesses to drug addiction. The paintings express anguish and pain, often with different expressions on the two sides of their faces.
The face paintings became Stoehr’s cause with the purpose of ending stigma attached to addiction.
“It took a few years to find my voice – my soul’s work,” Stoehr writes.
He strives to depict a myriad of emotions in his paintings.
“It is all there – terror, intolerance, indifference, guilt, shame and helplessness as well as resilience, resolve, forgiveness, love and hope,” the website states.
The artist began displaying his work in 2018 in Boulder, Colo., where he resides. His show, which Stoehr calls “Stigma and Survival,” has since traveled around the world.
A video showing the artist talking about his work can be found on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website. In the video, Stoehr tells of how his sister Emma had battled drug addiction since high school. She was able to stay clean for five years after William painted her portrait with the promise she would go to rehab if he painted her
However, Emma became addicted again after a doctor prescribed pain killers following back surgery. The loss of her husband was another factor that contributed to her relapse.
The video on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website is titled, “Breaking Down the Stigma of Addiction: A Witness Story,” July 1, 2021.
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