LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Several words can be used to describe the Louisville artist. Jaylin Stewart, 23, can be considered not only an artist, but also an activist, healer, teacher, and student. Stewart has become well known for the portraits she paints of neighbors killed in gun violence. The heavy subject matter combines grief with beauty, to put faces on the issue of gun violence. That's why Stewart feels she's found her voice in art. She encourages others to do so.
Inside her home studio in a neighborhood on Louisville's west side, Jaylin Stewart's work line the walls. Her favorite piece, a portrait of the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, sits on her easel. "Any time I start a portrait, I always start in the eyes," Stewart explains, glowing with pride at her work on the man she calls her role model.
Stewart moves to a wall, and gazes upon her late friend, Brandon. She stares at her painting of the man who was shot to death in Louisville's Victory Park. "I was heartbroken when Brandon passed away," Stewart remembers. "He was a wonderful friend. Wonderful person. Good father."
When homicides plagued the area of town near her own neighborhood and killed some of her own family, Stewart grieved. Then, she began painting the faces of the victims. It was raw emotion at first, that she feels helped her heal. That's why she wanted to paint for others, to give family portraits of their lost loved ones.
"I would cry. Sometimes I would laugh. My art helped me before it helped anybody else. I really didn't realize that I was providing therapy for myself," she says.
In the time Stewart's being painting since November 2016, she's completed more than 200 paintings. While she's proud of her work, she feels that the process of her painting "is more beautiful."
At the heart of it all, is the heavy theme of her work. She's even painted pictures of guns, for exhibits on gun violence, "to bring people into a different space, so when they walk into this room it's like you're walking into a different world, or you're walking into something you've never experienced before."
"I'm known for the paintings I do, but I've been considered an activist now because my work is so powerful, and you know there are not just victims of violence here. What happened to them is something that's going on all over the country," says Stewart. "There are so many conversations around not only gun violence but just guns in general you know, the way it's discussed on who should have guns, who gets to buy guns, or the different background checks," she explains further.
Now that she's found her voice through her work, she's teaching others to get creative with art and harness a voice, too. She's recently started teaching at the West End Boys School. Stewart is also a full-time student at the Kentucky College of Art and Design.
"Art is something that outlives us, and you know people value it and art is needed in this world," she says. That's just another reason she puts memorials on canvas.
Stewart's work goes on display at various art exhibits around Louisville, and she also has an exhibit on display currently. The 'God Rest America' exhibit is on display through the windows of Sheherazade.