A message in angry strokes

By Ethan Baron, The Province

MAY 4, 2009

Welcome to Pamela Masik's nightmare.

The ghosts of killed and vanished women surround you, conjured from the horrors of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by a painter who seems, at first blush, as far from the mean streets as you could imagine.

Masik, known principally as a painter of dreamy abstracts sought by wealthy collectors, is beautiful, successful. She lives in posh Yaletown with her son and a little white dog named Paolo.

Yet she has worked nearly four years now on a project that has cost her countless thousands of dollars, and at times left her sobbing and puking in her studio, overcome by the tragedy that bleeds from her subject matter.

She is painting 69 portraits of women who went missing from the Downtown Eastside. Forty-nine paintings are finished, each eight feet by 10 or eight by 12. Among her subjects are Robert Pickton's victims, and alleged victims.

Near the door inside her Vancouver studio hangs the face of Mona Wilson, some three metres tall. Wilson is one of six women Pickton has been found guilty of killing. The portrait displays Masik's characteristic painting style: violent, rapid-fire brush strokes, wide, splattering, slashing sweeps. Replace the brush in her hand with a knife and she could be committing murder. In fact, she does at times use a blade -- Wilson's face is rent by gaping cuts, one roughly sewn up.

Nearby in the studio hangs a portrait of Cindy Feliks, whose killing falls into the next 20 counts against Pickton, for which he has yet to be tried. There are things about the Pickton case that have not been published or broadcast because of a court order, and what happened to Feliks will, when it becomes known, shock the nation. Masik knows already, and she has used her artist's alchemy to create effects on the canvas that tell, on a visceral level, of an unthinkable destruction, an appalling transformation.

Everywhere in this high-ceilinged studio the faces of these women stare out. Between them flits this paint-spattered artist, nothing on the surface providing a clue as to why she is creating a body of work out of materials so dark that some of her collectors are now afraid to visit her studio.

The answer is all around us.

"What exists in my community also exists in me," Masik says.

She calls her 69-painting series The Forgotten, and her work exudes the anger and sadness she feels knowing that dozens of women living in a world of abysmal poverty and incessant violence kept disappearing one after another for years, and hardly anyone cared.

"It's not right what happened," says Masik, her eyes welling up. "Everyone deserves a right to a dignified life. As an artist, I really felt driven to say something on a social level."

Though she hints at a personal history that taught her compassion for those who are abused, Masik says she is motivated primarily by a desire to create an artistic bridge between social classes.

"It doesn't seem like there's a lot of understanding, a lot of compassion, to help empower the people in less fortunate situations," she says.

"I'm hoping to affect people emotionally so maybe they're inspired to do something. I feel like I'm a voice for the issue. A lot of these women didn't have a voice, and their community didn't have a voice."

She intends to finish her project in June, and to find a public institution in Vancouver where the works will be shown, before she takes them across Canada.

Welcome to Masik's nightmare. It belongs to us all.

Copyright (c) The Province


The Forgotten



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016