I once heard that, if scared, a snail would leave a trail that no other snails will follow. While I am not sure about the accuracy of this statement, there is something I found really moving about it. I imagined a little snail sitting all frightened and alone on a path, yet somehow desperately wanting to warn its little snail friends of danger. The tiny snail, scared yet determined, leaves a path with it’s trail, a silent warning that other snails instinctively understand.
For me, that’s a little like painting.
Painting allows me to express the things I want to say but I am unable to express in words…the pain of a loss too difficult to speak about, the feeling of rain after a long dry spell, the secret that can never be shared, the feeling of loving and being loved. When people say they like one of my paintings, they often cannot explain why in words. For whatever reason, they say it resonates. I get it. It’s like meeting someone and instantly connecting without knowing why. Soon you are best friends for life. You can’t explain why you clicked. You just did.
As a child, I found solace in painting. I would sneak out of bed late at night armed with a pencil, a flashlight, and a stark determination to finish whatever drawing I had begun earlier in the day. In these moments I felt most present as my childish worries transformed into marks on a page. Marks that, unlike worries, I didn’t mind sharing with others.
As I grew older, so did my passion for painting. I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours at Western University in London. My paintings were featured in local galleries including The McIntosh Gallery and the Palace at 4 am. After graduation for the following six years, I travelled to over 35 countries variously working as a bartender, tour leader, English as Another Language instructor, factory worker, and volunteer development worker. Although my personal painting dwindled, my love of the arts did not and through my travels, I saw how art is used across different communities and cultures to express the complexity of our emotional lives.
While working as an EAL teacher in Gwangju, South Korea, I took painting lessons from a local artist who taught me how a thin black line painstakingly drawn in ink could be used to convey both the fragility and strength that exists within the branch of a cherry tree. In D’Kar, Kalahari, I watched Indigenous artists use bright bold colours to illustrate both the vibrancy of their homeland as well as the tragedy of their displacement. Finally, as an HIV/AIDS educator in Vancouver, Canada, I learned how slashes of paint seared across body forms on a canvas could be used by women to expose the pain of unspoken wounds that refused to heal.
These experiences and stories from my travels continue to nestle into my art today in interesting and unexpected ways. It is through these stories that I rediscovered something I think I have always intuitively known… the marks from my paintbrush continue on from the path within me where words may fail.