It’s been over four months since the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, but artist and University of Mississippi alumnus, Jonathan Kent Adams, is doing his part to make sure the event is remembered. “Pulse: A Tribute” is a pop-up exhibit that features watercolor portraits of all 49 victims.
The portraits are on display until Thursday in the Student Union Ballroom from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an artist reception featuring Adams on tomorrow from 6-8 p.m.
The exhibit is hosted by the group Feminist Empowerment at The University of Mississippi, or FEMISS, and the Sarah Isom Center in recognition of LGBTQ History Month.
“When I saw Jonathan’s pieces, I knew that we had to get these out and show people at the university because they are so striking and moving,” said Holden Hayes, president of FEMISS.
Adams’s idea to create the series came immediately upon receiving the news of the shooting.
“I cried a lot. I was very angry. I knew that I wanted to make something, because that’s my normal reaction to anything that happens in my life,” Adams said.
Adams has always had a deep emotional connection with his work. Growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi, he first used his creativity as a form of self-expression.
“When I lived in Yazoo, I knew I was gay, but it was something that was always within myself. I never outwardly told anyone or showed it, but it always made me feel like I needed to think outside the box. I feel like that pushed me to creative outlets. Coming from a small town forces you to contemplate a lot. There’s a lot of time to think about who you are. God was a huge part of my life, and still is, and that was kind of my safe place,” Adams said.
Throughout his artistic career, Adams’s work has been influenced by his spirituality, sexual orientation, and life experiences.
“I observe things through the lens of things I’ve read and I make them a part of me. The Bible is a huge influence in my world view, but there’s also my own world view outside of that. Halos are also a big influence in my work, you’ll see that in the Pulse paintings. Also, I like to use the anatomical heart. When you start a relationship with God you get a new heart, and I’ve always liked the concept of giving part of your heart to someone else. I use that symbolism a lot,” Adams said.
Adams’s Pulse project process spanned over the course of a month. He used sources such as the Orlando Sentinel, CNN, Yahoo, and People magazine to gather information and images to use for his renderings. The 49 portraits contain a black ink and watercolor portrayal of a victim, and each have a different colored “halo” background. These collectively span the rainbow, which aesthetically ties the installation to the LGBTQ community.
The paintings have garnered significant attention on social media. Adams posted the portraits to his Instagram page, and has had family and friends of the victims leave thoughts and comments. “One Tree Hill” star, Sophia Bush, also re-posted Adams’s image of the portraits to over 2.6 million followers.
While Adams and the portraits have gotten considerable notice, it is clear the main purpose of Adams’s project is to honor the victims and the lives they lived.
“A lot of these shootings happen and we post something about it and are genuinely upset for a few days, but then something new happens and we move on. To really revisit the families’ pain and the potential these lives could have had, and the impact they did have, to me was hard, but healing. I found a lot of my dreams were similar to theirs… I saw myself in them,” Adams said.