A self-taught artist, Jayashree Krishnan has painted the portraits of over 150 first responders from across the world since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Krishnan has been a full-time artist since the last 5 years after she quit her job as a Math instructor at the Seattle University and works from her studio in Seattle.
And this project started off with her painting the portraits of two of her cousins who were working 13-hour shifts at hospitals in Michigan.
“I posted it on social media, and suddenly there was a big outpouring of appreciation and encouragement,” she said. “Patients and family members, you know, everyone was so appreciative of it […] That was saying something to me. It was saying that the art is not just about the artwork, but it opened up the space for people who were not healthcare workers to step in and say something encouraging for them.”
And since March 2020, she has painted over 150 portraits of healthcare workers. She got in touch with healthcare workers from Seattle, the United States, and some from across the world through word of mouth and some outreach initiatives.
And for her, the most important feature in the faces of the first responders are their eyes.
“Each person’s set of eyes that I have painted so far, they tell their own story,” Krishnan said. “My goal was to just capture that emotion.”
And she saw different emotions in the eyes of each of her subjects. “The younger ones, there is fear in those eyes. I can feel that when I’m painting,” she said.
For her, this project was not just about painting healthcare workers but also understanding what they went through when they were at the forefront of this battle against the pandemic.
“Things were just so difficult for them. They had a shortage [of PPE] with the overwhelming number of patients that were coming in. And on the other side, there were people who refused to wear masks,” she said.
“As a citizen who was not in the medical field and who is talking to all of these different people dealing with this every day, it started to really get to [me], right? There’s reality, and then there is this alternate defiance about doing a simple thing like wearing a mask because that could actually save lives and could actually help these people who were fighting it every day.”
Undertaking this initiative has also been a healing and helpful experience for Krishnan because it helped her in managing her own emotions and stress during the pandemic.
“Art is wonderful because it gives you an outlet to deal with the anxiety that goes with this pandemic,” she said. “For me, a year ago I was just painting landscapes and thinking that I needed to find meaning for my artwork. And then this sort of happened.”
Her beautiful portraits are also being displayed at Columbia City Gallery from 19th February through 21st March. And now, she is also self-publishing a book, “Caring for Humanity,” which will feature all those portrait paintings and the stories behind them.
You can have a look at a few portraits here.