“I know that art heals. Art transforms’

As Scranton artist Helen Lavelle watched the death toll from COVID-19 soar in the spring of 2020, her heart went out not only to those who were sick and suffering, but to their survivors – children, parents, siblings, spouses and friends. shocked at the loss of a loved one.

Thinking of their pain reminded him of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a statue of the grieving mother Mary, holding the lifeless body of her crucified son, Jesus.

“My heart was breaking for the families and friends of the dying,” she said, explaining how she found solace in picking up a brush and painting in oil a room she calls “Pandemic Pieta” .

“Pandemic Pieta” was exhibited this month in Milan, Italy, and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, as part of the MADS Art Gallery’s Hysterica international art exhibition, for which the organizers had invited artists to “investigate their own deep disturbances, fears, emotional stimuli.

“The focus of my painting is not the lost life, but the mother who is battered by unbearable grief, unspeakably traumatized,” Lavelle wrote. “She’s in the eye of the storm, her face recognizing her reality and ours. Her hand is stretched out over the body of her dead son. She’s not hysterical. She feels his feelings. She is fully present. She reaches out in her most vulnerable state so we can reach out.

The pandemic has also made Lavelle vulnerable.

“I have experienced a lot of loss in my life. Death is real. The growing numbers were surreal, ”she told The Times Leader by email. “It seemed like every day someone I knew was losing a loved one to COVID-19. “

“Although I personally did not lose anyone to COVID, the pandemic threatened the lives of a number of people I was close to… hospitalized, in intensive care units… fighting for their lives.”

As she painted, the artist recalls, her thoughts “turned endlessly to the health heroes who were killing themselves on the front lines trying to keep patients alive” as well as the people who lost friends and relatives. parents. “I felt their pain and my fear.”

“Pandemic Pieta” is the first piece in Lavelle’s soon to be released “Pain and Vulnerability” collection inspired by loss.

“Creating is indeed therapeutic for me,” she said. “I know art heals. Art is transformed.

“I also believe that I have a responsibility to use my talent to make this possible for the viewer.”

A great traveler, Lavelle has seen Michelangelo’s Pietà several times. “I love that he sculpted the Mother of Christ on a much larger scale than it would have been in real life,” Lavelle said.

So how did a Scranton painting end up in Milan?

“The curators spotted my work on Instagram and contacted me to participate,” said Lavelle, adding that she was delighted that the work was selected to be part of MADS Gallery’s permanent installation.

The artist hopes to return to Milan, “where art is really everything”, when it is safer to travel. “Right now, I am exactly where I need to be,” she added earlier this week. “With my grandsons for Thanksgiving.”

Lavelle’s biography describes her not only as a classically trained contemporary painter, but as a nationally recognized leader in the advertising industry. She studied at Marywood University in Scranton, Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She has personally worked with American Realists, Canadian Impressionist Masters and Irish Expressionist Masters.

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Margarita B. Bittner