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Former cop returns to life of art after PTSD diagnosis (5 photos)

Julianna Murphy studied fine arts at University of Guelph before becoming a police officer in 1998

A police officer with post-traumatic stress disorder is expressing herself through art in a series that is currently showing at Persephone’s Wardrobe on Wilson Street.

Julianna Murphy was considered injured on duty three years ago and received a PTSD diagnosis. She has not been on active duty since.

“I loved my job. I can say it was pretty tough, but I loved it,” she said.

Murphy calls PTSD ‘a horrific pit’.

“If you start accepting the pit and doing things to get yourself out of it, it becomes more manageable. That is what I have used art for,” she said.

Prior to the start of her policing career in 1998, Murphy studied fine arts at University of Guelph.

She describes her art career back then as promising. She won local awards and her work was shown across Canada.

After leaving active duty, Murphy has picked up her art where she left off.

Murphy used an encaustic process for the series — also known as beeswax painting — in which beeswax and resin are combined with layers of oil paint and other media.

“I do a lot of photo transfers. I am taking my photography and embedding it in layers in the encaustic,” said Murphy.

Each piece is built layer by layer. Murphy sets aside up to three hours to complete each layer.

“When you are building your image you have to almost see in 3D to see your first layer all the way to your end layer to understand the depth,” she said.

Many of the works share common iconic photos that appear throughout the series. By juxtaposing those images in different ways, Murphy hopes to viewer will asses and reevaluate their preconceived notions.  

“This series is a theme of male and female, gender identification roles — roles that are imposed, roles that are chosen. Roles that we learn. Understanding all of the influences around us and decomposing them,” she said.

Murphy's service dog Char, has also been helping her work through her diagnosis.

"He's been with me for about a year and a half and has made a massive difference," she said.

Persephone's Wardrobe has offered the space free of charge for the show, allowing Murphy the ability to donate 60 per cent of the price of any piece sold to the 10C shared space at 42 Carden St.

As a police officer, Murphy said she often had to suppress her artistic nature but did find ways to use her creativity.

“I worked really hard at making the space safe for people to tell their truth,” she said.

Murphy remembers being told early in her career that people often don’t see the person behind the badge, they just see the uniform.

“Every call I would attend, I was aware of this dichotomy — the role of this uniform I had put on and laws I am enforcing, with the requirement to be human at the same time,” she said.

Laws are man-made things, said Murphy, and as a result are inherently flawed.

“When you start understanding that and start understanding that police are humans trying to do a job that really is impossible, it changes things,” she said.

Although the series currently showing at Persephone’s Wardrobe doesn’t deal directly with her policing career, Murphy has created other works that do.

Working through her PTSD through art has helped Murphy to better know her own story, something she recommends everybody do.

“Know your fractures. If you don’t — when you age — they’re going to increase from being just a fracture,” said Murphy.