Pearl District gallery showcases stunning art while trying to erase stigma

A visitor to J. Pepin Art Gallery in the Pearl District views the paintings. (KATU Photo)

An art gallery in the Pearl District showcases stunning art, and the stories behind each artist are equally so. The gallery exists solely to break down a societal stigma.

Chris Foster is one of the artists. For him, art is always an experiment.

His process is all about fusion. It's called "encaustic" art, where he employs a flame to oil, wax and acrylics to make his creations.

"Oh, it's meditative," Foster says of his happy place in his Northeast Portland studio. "It's always in flux. I'm experimenting to get to this place that I can't really define, or describe, I don't think any artist could or should."

Foster works on several pieces at once. He shows us his most recently finished product. It will soon hang at the J. Pepin Art Gallery in the Pearl District alongside his other pieces.

"Art, for me-at this point-is so connected with my life force in general, but mostly mental health for me," Foster says.

He is living with bipolar disorder. All of the artists featured at the gallery live with some sort of mental illness.

"We actually compete in the Pearl District, in the Art District, like any other gallery. That's how we're breaking down stigma. We don't need special treatment just because of our diagnoses," says owner Jennifer Pepin. She also has bipolar disorder.

Pepin says it's all about hope.

"I once received an email from someone that said, 'until I went to your gallery, that I was able to accept my own mental illness.' So that was really powerful. My hope is it gets people to think of it in a different way. And ask themselves: 'why do I have these beliefs about mental illness and are they really accurate?'"

Peppin is engaged to Chris Foster. They met at a support group which led them not only to each other but to the gallery: a place where everyone is welcome to show their true colors.

"There's nothing going on at the gallery that isn't honest," Foster said.

For more information on the J. Pepin Art Gallery, click here.

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