On his good days, Claude Chapdelaine makes the 20-minute walk to his rented studio space to spend several hours painting.
It’s a rewarding routine, but a new one. For Chapdelaine, a gay man of French Canadian and Mi’kmaq descent, painting was always only a hobby. While he had long wanted to be a professional painter, he doubted he could succeed.
Recent events changed his mind.
In December 2012, his doctors told him that without open heart surgery he would die within six months. The 53-year-old had known about his heart condition for over a decade, but it had never seemed so dire.
“I was hospitalized for 14 days and released on Christmas Day,” he says. “I was told the surgery was a success and that I should have another 20 years to live.”
But within two years his heart problem was worsening again. “Tests indicated that the heart muscle that pumps the blood forward had slowed to 22 percent,” he says. “Being too tired and weak, I stopped working as a public servant in January 2015.”
In June 2015, a surgeon implanted a combination defibrillator-pacemaker into Chapdelaine’s chest to help his heart beat more effectively. But the procedure wasn’t a cure, and he says that he’s “living with limited time — no deadline provided.”
With time seeming more precious than ever, he turned to a “bucket list” he’d generated several years before. “I decided that it was time I did something serious about painting, finding a studio and having my first show,” he says.
He responded to an ad from the Enriched Bread Artists (EBA), a visual arts collective with a home base that is a renovated bread factory. He rented a studio space from the group for the summer, and then again in the autumn (with the current term to end in December).
“Generally studio space is reserved for established artists, students of fine arts, and art teachers,” he says. “I’m grateful the committee made an exception for me.”
So began his regular treks — as regular as his limited energy allows — to his studio space. He says that having the studio in the same building as EBA’s members has helped him stay focused and motivated, and given him a much needed sense of community.
“It’s been a real good boost,” he says. “Because, for me, coming out as an artist was harder to do than coming out as a gay man.”
At the EBA’s 23rd annual open studio, Chapdelaine will exhibit his paintings publicly for the first time in his life. For two consecutive weekends, the public is welcome to the collective’s two floors to peruse works created by its members — and by Chapdelaine.
He’ll show between 15 and 20 pieces that explore such themes as ancestry, history and spirituality. His works, which range widely in size, are painted almost exclusively with primary colours — a choice that he says is, at least in part, a reflection of his attitude toward his health issues.
“I think it’s [an indication of] my desire to live and to beat the odds. I’ve beaten the odds a few times now,” he says. “I’ve accepted [that I have limited time], but am I resigned to it? Not really. If my spirit wants to fight some more, I’m willing to do it.”
(Enriched Bread Artists’ 23rd annual open studio
Thursday, Oct 29–Sunday, Nov 8, 2015
Enriched Bread Artists Studios, 951 Gladstone Ave, Ottawa
(Artwork courtesy of Claude Chapdelaine)