A Flower Mound painter discussed mass shootings with tears in her eyes, and her passion spilled onto the canvases at her solo show “Targets.”
Eilene Carver, a professional artist and teacher, won the 2016 Fresh Ideas contest, a juried show hosted by the Visual Art League of Lewisville. The first-place winner of the show receives a $1,000 prize and their own art show the following summer in the Main Gallery of the Medical City Lewisville Grand Theater.
Carver has always been bothered by school shootings, she said. It started in 1989 with the Cleveland Elementary School massacre in Stockton, California.
“I was in grad school [at UC Berkeley], and it was the first time I had ever heard of a school shooting. This school was about 30 to 40 minutes away from UC Berkeley,” she said. “I remember turning on the television and just being so shocked that this man had ordered the equivalent of an AK-47 from China, sat in his van on the other side of the chain link fence and waited for recess. When the kids came out, he just opened fire.”
Five children were killed, and more than 30 were wounded. Then the gunman killed himself, according to the New York Times.
“I remember this one story in particular just killed me because the teacher went out to identify [the children], and it was really hard because the kids looked so bad,” she said of the Cleveland Massacre. “[The teacher] saw the red shoes that she had. This little girl and her had this connection over these red shoes because they were her Christmas shoes, so she knew it was that little girl.”
The young girl with the red shoes was an eight-year-old named Ouen Lim. Carver painted “Red Shoes, Stockton (for Oeun Lim),” a piece featuring her little red Mary Jane shoes, to honor her.
“So, that had always kind of been there and bothered me all those years,” Carver said. “Then Columbine, Virginia Tech, there are so many.”
Many of the 28 pieces of work in the show feature a common theme — targets — somewhere in the painting.
“It came to me, the thought of a child as a target. That thought of a child being a target kind of unhinged me,” Carver said. “The series is called ‘Targets’ because there were some things outside of school shootings that were too powerful not to address, like the Pulse nightclub shooting and last year, the police officers in Dallas.”
Another painting, “Peek a boo, Columbine” honors the thirteen students and teacher who died at the 1999 Columbine High School Shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
“I decided to represent each victim as a flower, the Columbine flower for the state flower,
Carver said. “Flowers are fragile. Especially wildflowers in nature, you step on them and they’re gone.”
Carver makes it a point to feature the victims in her work, not the attackers.
“For all of [the paintings] I didn’t want to portray the shooter,” she said. “I did want the effects and the heartfelt feelings of these people who’ve lost somebody, wanting somebody back.”
She teared up thinking about the victim’s families.
“I’m just thinking about how often these parents, every birthday, every anniversary…” she said before she trailed off.
Carver spent three years researching U.S. gun-related mass tragedies for her work and has an installation at the beginning of the exhibition featuring her research and findings.
While she knows the show may be controversial, it wasn’t her intention to be anti-gun, and she wants to be neutral in that area. Awareness of gun-related tragedies was her goal.
“I’m not saying nobody should have guns, I don’t really want to address the political issues… I don’t think it’s my role to say, provide a solution,” Carver said. “I always think art is a mirror back to society. Here’s what I see. Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be. I’m saying I have a real problem with school shootings.”
Carver said she hopes the show will start a dialogue in the community and lead to change.
“I may be naïve, but things can change if you get people to care about it,” she said. “That’s how I didn’t cry every day in the studio, I was like, ‘I have a purpose for this.’”
Tina Alvarez, Visual Art League of Lewisville vice president, said this is the first time the judges in the Fresh Ideas contest have picked something that can be considered more controversial, and she thinks Lewisville can benefit from it.
“I hope it invites some conversation about it,” she said. “I’m hoping that the community can have discussions about it because it’s certainly a current topic right now.”
Carver also has a notebook in the show where attendees can leave her feedback or provide comments on her work.
“I really do want to know people’s thoughts,” she said. “How can I know if a message is being received or striking the heart of people if I don’t make myself vulnerable?”
The Medical City Lewisville Grand Theater Main Art Gallery will house the “Targets” exhibition June 24 to July 29. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Grand Theater is located at 100 N Charles St, Lewisville, TX 75057.
Editor’s note: This story originally listed the wrong date for the exhibit. The “Targets” show will continue until July 29.