Local Ceramic Artist and Sculptor Guy Gilmore met with Make Tahoe to talk about his latest show, "The American Dream", opening on Thursday, October 11, 2018 from 5 to 7 pm at the Lake Tahoe Community College Foyer Gallery. Lake Tahoe Community College is located at 1 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe, California. The Foyer Gallery is located directly inside the entrance to the Fine Arts Building. "The American Dream" will be on display through the entire fall quarter. Admission is free and the exhibit is open to the public during normal business hours, which includes evenings and weekends when classes are in session.
All of the work you will see in "The American Dream" was made locally by artist Guy Gilmore, right here at the Lake Tahoe Community College Art Department, but the message displayed is of national concern. If widespread drug addiction is due to drug abuse, what would you call abuse of capitalism through unmitigated greed? "The American Dream" exposes the dark reality of this American nightmare, the Opioid Epidemic. Gilmore has created a visually powerful exhibit of ceramic, bronze, and mixed media work to get your attention. He shares his story and message in hopes of helping others avoid the trap.
Gilmore speaks humbly, in a quiet and reserved voice, but is passionate about this issue. "The American Dream" contains a monumental number of ceramic pieces, in the hundreds. It also serves as a warning about the opioid epidemic to those of us here and a tribute to those we have lost to this horrible battle. As I set up next to the exhibit for this interview, people come through the gallery and are compelled to stop and think about the work, its message, and what it all means to them. How do I know this? Because they stop and began talking to the work and talking to me. This exhibit won’t be ignored. My attention focuses on a piece being picked up by a viewer. I caution him that it is ceramic and for visual display, but I can understand the urge to reach out. The piece is safely placed on its pedestal. My phone buzzes and tries to get my attention. It’s a text alert from South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition. October is Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. Looks like they have something to say about it too.
A large, bloated ceramic pig can be seen from a distance. The pig, at the center of The American Way (ceramic, bronze, and mixed media) lies on its side, surrounded by hundreds of ceramic mice. It’s the first, or oldest, piece in "The American Dream". The exhibit consists of work made by Guy Gilmore over six years. "I made three rats and then 300 mice to go with it to represent the one percent controlling the 99 percent....They (Purdue Pharma) marketed (OxyContin) as being a non-addictive opiate that could control your pain all day."
The aftermath of Purdue Pharma’s creation of sales quotas, hiring large numbers of sales people, and misrepresenting OxyContin, an extended-release version of oxycodone hydrochloride—a semi-synthetic opioid, as being safe and non-addictive, is a tremendous rise in drug addiction and overdose deaths—an epidemic. Purdue Pharma’s 1996-2002 budget plans for OxyContin are available online now on the Kaiser Health News website. Click on the "notes" tab for some of the highlights. In 2007, Purdue Pharma plead guilty and was ordered to pay $600 million dollars for misbranding the drug. The fallout continues as New York joins at least 26 states and Puerto Rico to sue Purdue Pharma.
A Deadly Sin (ceramic) is a nearly life-sized ceramic sloth, surrounded by ceramic syringes, beer cans, alcohol bottles, and pill bottles—a realistic yet surreal depiction of the paraphernalia associated with addiction. Gilmore recalls when he made this piece. "I was actually clean, and then I had two friends that passed away within a month of each other. Then I went off the deep end. I was still taking classes. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so....I made this piece....The sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s like a slow road to recovery. No matter where you go. It’s everywhere you look in society—like always constantly there. It’s just hard for (people) to get out of, and that’s what I was trying to say with that one."
Genetically Engineered (ceramic and packing peanuts) is an unhealthy monkey in a box, complete with packing peanuts. "(OxyContin) sucked me in....I never knew....that like if someone had said, 'Oh that’s the same thing as heroin,' when I started I probably wouldn’t have done it." A study dated Valentine’s Day weds the two—OxyContin and heroin use. "They (Purdue Pharma) really don’t care (what happens later). We’re all just guinea pigs to them and the whole system....They gave it out (in a form) as you could smoke it, shoot it up, or snort it—all in the same pill, and it was better than what was on the street. (They didn’t design the pill so that) you couldn’t use it that way, and what it does is it provides business to all other things like the jail industry, prison system, probation, parole, rehab, funeral services....just because of them starting it up. They are making billions and billions of dollars off of everyone else’s demise....and it’s not like something you can just be like, 'Oh I’m not going to do it.' It’s ingrained once you start. It’s the hardest thing to get over. You think you can’t live without it."
Gilmore directs my attention to the mixed media sculpture in the corner. The American Way II—The Epidemic (ceramic and mixed media), is a mixed media sculpture consisting of a stack of two wooden pallets in front of a stack of seven more pallets. The pallets create levels of space for 115 ceramic rats in various degrees of drug addition, to roam about or lie on the ground decomposing. "There (are) 115 rats because at the time of making that sculpture, on the national drug database website, it said 115 people died everyday....I feel like everyone just wants to push this epidemic to the side and not even want to talk about (how this was allowed to happen), so that’s why I put it in the corner."
The rats are engaged with actual hypodermic needles and pill bottles bearing the artist’s name, from when they were prescribed to him. "By the time I’ve made (The American Way II—The Epidemic), I’ve already had a lot of friends that have died from this. And I OD’ed once too. (The epidemic’s) just getting worse and worse and worse. I feel like it’s going to continue to get worse until people try to teach their kids to not trust the pharmaceutical industry because they are just trying to make money off of people....with the mass prescribing of (drugs)." Nearly seven out of ten Americans take prescription drugs.
And what we are learning about what happened to create this opioid crisis just seems to get worse and worse. We know that Rudolph Giuliani, President Trump's current legal counsel, was hired by Purdue Pharma when they were charged in 2007. Now we are told in an article on The Guardian’s website, Giuliani helped Purdue Pharma ensure that they could still do business with the federal government after the 2007 guilty plea. An article in The San Diego Union-Tribune focuses on the issue of painkillers being overprescribed to veterans. A May 29, 2018 article by The New York Times states that a confidential Justice Department report shows Purdue Pharma knew that the drug could be misused by crushing and snorting before the 2000 date that Purdue Pharma maintained in the Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as the time they first learned of the abuse.
Some say that Purdue Phama’s February 9, 2018 statement announcing that they will no longer promote opioids to prescribers is '20 Years Late.' But while we were waiting for a vote to take place on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the Senate, in a bipartisan effort, passed H.R.6—Support for Patients and Communities Act which makes changes to the Medicaid program to address opioid and substance abuse disorders. Artist Guy Gilmore’s The American Way II—The Epidemic contains hope too. One additional pallet is upright, next to the nine others. There is what appears to be a blue ribbon, like a symbol of hope, sort of casually strewn on the forwardmost pallet. But like everything in this exhibit, there is a purpose behind it. "I put a little blue tourniquet, kind of like the hope—like support your troops," offers Gilmore. "I made it like, 'Support people who are going through this. It’s not easy.'" And that upright pallet? That’s the one out of ten that is able to break free. It isn’t easy. 91 percent of opiate addicts report relapse, and a 33-year study finds lifelong, lethal consequences of heroin addiction.
Gilmore grew up in Bishop, California where he went to Bishop High School. He would sometimes draw. He didn’t think he was good enough to be an artist, so he didn’t pursue it at the time. Gilmore moved to South Lake Tahoe in 2011 after living in Humboldt, California. He tells me, "I lived in Humboldt. That’s where it all started. I left. Lost everything. Went to rehab. Got out and got put on probation. I had a little bit of sobriety. On christmas night I ended up using. I OD’ed, and then after that I was like, 'Oh, what am I gonna do with my life? I might as well go (back) to school, 'And then I started going to (LTCC). I didn’t even know I was good at sculpting at all. I took a class with Bryan (Yerian) and it was actually a metal sculpture class....It opened my eyes to being an artist."
Now a professional artist (much of Guy Gilmore’s work is available for sale), he has exhibited extensively in the the Tahoe area. In addition to Lake Tahoe Community College shows, Gilmore’s work has been exhibited at Tahoe Mountain Lab, High Vibe Society Artisan Collective, South Lake Tahoe City Hall’s City Art Gallery, and the Potentialist Workshop in Reno. He is also a member of the Tahoe Activist Artists. About the Tahoe Activist Artists he says, "We’re all trying to bring positive change to the community and Tahoe through art." What he likes best about being an artist is that he can make a statement. "I feel the world is changing real fast, and I want to be on the positive side....I think with my art I can at least bring awareness to the problems that are happening in our own country. I don’t think I can change the world, but at least I can do something....(help) people teach their kids about pharmaceutical companies and corporate greed and how the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up like it’s supposed to be. It actually is a struggle."
Guy Gilmore has been struggling with this issue for ten years. As much as he tells us the struggle is real, he wants people to know that they can rise above it. "I just want to give people hope that there is a way out if they really try." Rise Above (bronze) sits front and center. A wise owl rises above a human skull and crossbones. The crossbones are, appropriately, poppy pods. "I put that there—right here in front so people can know there is a way to rise above the whole American dream. What I’m trying to put out there is a way. I’m doing that right now....You just have to have a really good group of people who support you."
Support comes in many forms for artist Guy Gilmore. Gilmore’s love for animals is evident in his artistic use of animal forms to communicate his story and message. Bella is Gilmore’s real life furry friend and supporter. He beams, "I got her as a puppy 12 years ago. She’s been with me through everything, and she’s still here. She’s my number one dog ever....She helps me. She’s this support—unconditional love—showing me that I do have her to take care of....I have to keep it together. I love her so much. I have to be there for her."
Guy Gilmore would like to thank the Lake Tahoe Community College Art Department and give a special thanks to ceramics instructor Bryan Yerian. Please show your support for those battling drug addiction, help teach the next generation, and honor those who we have lost to this epidemic by attending the opening event at LTCC’s Foyer Gallery on October 11, 2018 from 5 to 7 pm and visting the exhibit often during the fall quarter. You will also be supporting an art department and local community that works together to provide opportunities for our artists and to heal lives.
Images courtesy of the artist. Photograph of detail of The American Way II - The Epidemic by Sheilah Boothby.
Check out Guy Gilmore’s Instagram page at instagram.com/guygilmore_art.
Find out more about National Substance Abuse Prevention Month at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. website ncadd.org.
Visit South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition’s website for additional resources at bedrugsafe.com.
Keep your medications secure and dispose of unused medications properly. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department (1352 Johnson Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, California) has a dropbox in the lobby to accept unused and expired medication.Many jurisdictions take part in The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Check with your local agency to confirm time and location: Drug Enforcement Administration Take Back Day.
Please also visit
Lake Tahoe Community College Art Department
Tahoe Mountain Lab
High Vibe Society Artisan Collective
Tahoe Activist Artists
Sources for this article as they appeared online October 7, 2018
The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, Study by Art Van Zee, MD - US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
OXYCONTIN® (oxycodone hydrochloride) extended-release tablets Medication Guide - Federal Drug Administration
U.S. drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Purdue Pharma’s 1996-2002 budget plans for OxyContin - Kaiser Health News
In Guilty Plea, OxyContin Maker to Pay $600 Million - New York Times
New York sues OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma over opioids - Reuters
Study: How the Reformulation of OxyContin Ignited the Heroin Epidemic - University of Notre Dame Website
OXYCODONE - Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Diversion Control
Deaths per Day - National Institute on Drug Abuse
Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescription Drugs - Mayo Clinic News Network
Under Attack, Drug Maker Turned to Giuliani for Help - New York Times
Rudy Giuliani won deal for OxyContin maker to continue sales of drug behind opioid deaths - The Guardian
Overprescribed: Veterans and the Painkiller Problem - San Diego Union-Tribune
Origins of an Epidemic: Purdue Pharma Knew Its Opioids Were Widely Abused - New York Times
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations - U.S. Government Publishing Office
Purdue Pharma L.P. Issues Statement on Opioid Promotion - purduepharma.com
Doctors In Maine Say Halt In OxyContin Marketing Comes '20 Years Late' - National Public Radio
H.R.6 - SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act - Congress.gov
Study on Lapse and Relapse Following Inpatient Treatment of Opiate Dependence - US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
33-Year Study by Researchers at UCLA Finds Lifelong, Lethal Consequences of Heroin Addiction - National Institute on Drug Abuse
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