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‘Recycled Heart’ artist’s portraits ‘dismantle invisibility’ of homelessness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Recycled Heart” repurposes both materials and people.

Launched more than 20 years ago by Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, the annual ArtStreet exhibit will hang at the Harwood Art Center, 1114 Seventh NW, beginning Feb. 1. It features more than 100 works by about 40 artists, 85 percent of whom are homeless, program coordinator Mindy Grossberg said. The works featured include painting, ceramics and sculpture, much of it comprised of recycled materials.

“In many ways it dismantles invisibility,” Grossberg said. “We’re experiencing homelessness and we’re creative beings. It helps re-shape people’s ideas.”

Albuquerque artist Helen Atkins is the program’s first National Endowment for the Arts-funded artist-in-residence. Atkins has not experienced homelessness, but she has worked with homeless families and youth, Grossberg said.

“We were looking for someone both known as a great artist and very community-minded,” she said. “It was this whole array of strengths.”

Her striking acrylic portrait, “Pulse No. 5: William,” captures the face of “Liam,” a regular participant in the ArtStreet program.

“He and I started drawing quick portraits of people in the studio,” Atkins said. “Everybody knows him, knows where he sits. You can tell how important his presence is. He always has the best wisdom.”

Atkins works in a variety of mediums, including painting, ceramic mosaics and found object art. She sometimes uses mirrors as her canvas.

Her artistic passion was cemented when she fell into a depression after a bad breakup.

“My art teachers at the time pulled me out of it,” she said. “It was immediate gratification. The building of my self-esteem was crucial at that point.”

Atkins graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in studio arts in 2017. She hopes to continue creating art reflecting social justice issues. Portraits are a speciality.

“Figurative work has always been a big theme,” she said. “I think the human form is an amazing tool. What you can express with a face or a body without words is amazing.”

Atkins shows her work at Santa Fe’s Box Gallery and at Albuquerque’s Patrician Design.

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