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URBAN LEGEND: Pamela Masik uncensored

Pamela Masik painted until midnight last night.
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Pamela Masik painted until midnight last night. This morning, the rail-thin artist, decked out in a leopard-print skull cap, black sweater, scarf, low-riding jeans and black boots, her hands covered in clay, flits between unfinished art pieces in her cavernous warehouse studio.

She apologizes for being in her grubbies but right now the internationally collected painter is in a creative zone, furiously painting and sculpting for her new series, set to debut this spring.

When shes in this mode, little else matters. She has 50 new paintings on the go and works up to 15 hours a day.

The artistic outpouring has also been the perfect antidote for the recent controversy shes endured.

In January, spooked by unease from certain community groups, UBCs Museum of Anthropology cancelled her exhibition The Forgotten, a series of 69 massive oil portraits of women from the Downtown Eastside who disappeared or had been murdered.

Masik wasnt girded for such a backlash against her show; the criticism stung, but she knew in her heart that the emotionally charged series would play an important role in raising awareness about the issue of marginalized women.

Most people didnt know about her charity work in the DTES. Or that she didnt stand to earn a dime from the series.

Even when the attacks became personal, Masik remained tight-lipped, preferring to speak through her art.

In the face of controversy, the best thing for an artist to do is to focus on your work.

Her upcoming series, tentatively titled Uncensored, includes abstract and portrait paintings, sculpture, as well as sound installation, video and performance. The show, which follows her 2008 series Caged Bird, has several underlying themes, one entitled The Hunt, which she says is particularly poignant. I think its the recently controversial stuff I had experienced you know feeling misunderstood. Lots of hidden messages, she says, pointing to an abstract painting of a deer in the forest with a ghostly figure camouflaged in the reeds.

So its feeling like you are hunted.

Adds Masik: I want to lend some insight into who I am as an artist and where I come from... and also moving forward and talking about things like hunted and the prey. My philosophy as an artist is to stretch yourself use other mediums really try to express yourself in these mediums.

The Forgotten series, of course, still looms large in her 2nd Avenue studio. Several of the haunting 10-feet by eight-feet portraits continue to hang on the walls because she has received several requests from teachers wanting to bring classes through. The body of work ignites discussion, she says. So they are talking about these issues. Would they have talked about them before?

I cant sanitize the issue. I cant paint them all pretty because the reality is there was this idea of disposability and not having a voice. That was the idea I was trying to portray in the works.

When Masik stood in front of the first blank canvas in the series, her hand trembled. Because I feared basically fucking up. I was scared I was going to ruin the painting.

As she worked on the ambitious project, which took five years and hundreds of hours per painting, she was often asked: Why 69? Why not scale it back to a more manageable number? Im doing this for the collection to look at you not for the viewer to look at collection, was her reply.

While painting the series, Masik immersed herself in the stories of the women and their families and explored her own role as a member of society: How did I contribute?

I healed a lot through my journey too... and knew one day Id be able to help facilitate helping others.

It wasnt long ago that Masik questioned her own artistic ability. In her 20s, she was a suit-wearing online gallery owner who represented a few artists. At the same time, she was a closet painter exhibiting under a pseudonym. I was scared to put myself out there and thats why I hid behind a fake name. Despite being a young mom rolling pennies for diapers, she pawned what she owned, rented an industrial loft and gave herself one year to work on her first exhibition under her own name.

Today, her work is collected internationally and has sold for up to $250,000.

[Painting is] something I must do. I get up every morning and Im so excited to come to the studio.

But shes not content with just painting for a living, she wants to say something with her work. Essentially, The Forgotten gave me the courage to say what I want to say and not be held back. Uncensored is really about doing that.

For more information about Masiks work, visit masik.ca.

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