RECOVER Project’s inaugural exhibit showcases artwork of 13 western Mass. residents

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-18-2023 9:00 AM

Keith Rollins has dabbled in art for 20 years and once worked as a licensed tattoo artist. But Wednesday marked the first time his work has been showcased in a gallery setting.

For approximately the next month, samples of Rollins’ prints will hang on a wall at 74 Federal St., and the 30-year-old Chicopee native is happy to explain his inspiration and creative process. He is one of 13 western Massachusetts residents in recovery with their work exhibited in The RECOVER Project’s annex gallery as part of the nonprofit’s first art show.

“This place has been a huge part of my recovery,” he said about an hour after the exhibit opened on Wednesday afternoon. “This is the first time I’ve ever displayed my art like this.”

Tara Kuzmeskus, a peer support worker with The RECOVER Project, explained someone in recovery had suggested an art show, knowing there is a lot of artistic talent in the area. The idea got a vote of approval at a community meeting a couple months ago and artists began hanging their work over the past week.

“There can be a lot of stigma around people who have past experiences with substance use and we really try hard to break that down and give people more of an open mind about what it means to be a person in recovery,” Kuzmeskus said. “I think it allows people to showcase their talent and skills and pride, and just be seen as another human being on this journey.”

The show was unveiled from 1 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and will continue to be on display for a month or so. The nonprofit had cheese, homemade salsa and chocolate-covered pretzels available for people who stopped by.

Most of the prints Rollins has on display were created when he was an active drug user. He is roughly 30 days into recovery, having been sober for four years before relapsing after breaking his back last year. He recently got out of jail.

One of his pieces features a hand touching a yellow mask that is being placed over four other masks that become increasingly dark in color. Rollins explained the darker colors mark levels of depression, while yellow is the color of joy. The piece, he said, represents how people mask their depression with joy.

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“They tell you, ‘Fake it till you make it,’” he said. “But it gets you nowhere.”

Jonathan Coe, aka Jay Cee, has several works on display, with influences from music, street art and “a combination of a bunch of different things.” Many of the pieces are inspired by his recovery, with expressions such as, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Hector Torres, who has been in recovery for 23 years, said he started drawing because he needed something to do with his hands while listening to speakers at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“I listened more when I was … drawing,” he explained. “When you are in early recovery, your mind’s going everywhere, so you need to keep your hands going, your brain going. That’s what I did when I was at meetings.”

Torres also runs a men’s support group at The RECOVER Project at 68 Federal St. at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. An art group meets on Mondays at 11:15 a.m.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or
413-930-4120.

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