Friday, April 24, 2015

Sasktel MaxTV Film on Dialysis, Murals and Memoir

Sasktel Max TV mandates a steady stream of locally-produced short films that feature various characters from all walks of life including, of course, artists and authors. Last month the film crew from Bamboo Shoots created a ten-minute short film that features yours truly.

It was a really interesting experience to work with the professional producer and videographer from Saskatoon-based firm Bamboo Shoots. They were very open to my suggestions about locations and even themes throughout the process. Once I had a chance to think about, I suggested three ideas: 1)  we shoot some footage at my studio, while flipping through a broad selection of some of my favorite easel paintings, 2)  we conduct an interview and book reading from my dialysis unit in Saskatoon, and 3) we spend some quality time at Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church (again in convenient!) to feature my most ambitious mural EVER.

I am very grateful to the folks at Bamboo Shoots who were so diligent in their unflagging pursuit of the truth, no matter how challenging and difficult it must have been to unwrap. It could not have been easy for them to witness the trial of dialysis. I've heard it described by the uninitiated as "gory", but let me assure you as a person whose life depends on this thrice-weekly blood-cleaning therapy, that it is my reality.

Gory or not, is for you to decide, dear reader. Let me remind you that millions of people worldwide are sustained by some form of dialysis on a daily basis as they await the "Gift of Life", aka a living or deceased kidney donor. That is, the vast majority of dialysis patients are anxiously awaiting their chance of a better, healthier life with a kidney transplant. In some cases though, this modern technological marvel fails to manifest in a timely fashion for whatever reason and the potential recipient, being sustained (sometimes precariously) on dialysis succumbs to the ravages of kidney failure.

There are certainly no solid guarantees for any of us on the quest for the "Gift of Life". All we can all hope and pray for is a  kidney transplant, executed expeditiously, or else we must languish on the dialysis unit. While this is often a viable option and a way to hopefully buy time, it must be said that a dialysis-dependent life is no fucking picnic.

It was with all of this in mind that I set out to create this Sasktel MaxTV short film. You might say I have a certain sense of dire urgency with this project and life in general. When I read the grim statistics about how many dialysis warriors perish (for whatever reason) while awaiting the intervention of a kidney transplant. 

You may recall that I received a kidney transplant on October 17th, 1979, thanks to the courageous and loving sacrifice of my brother Steven, who donated one of his kidneys to save my life as a 20-year old. His gift allowed me to thrive and prosper for over 34 years. In mid-May of 2014 I was obliged to return once again to the life of a dialysis patient.

So now, everything comes around full-circle, as I stare down the reality of kidney failure. I have to shore up my courage and determination to carry on with a smile and a twinkle in my eye as I once again embark on that quest for the "Gift of Life". A huge part of this "cup half-full" attitude derives from the fact that Book 1 of the "Dancing..." trilogy is about to be launched in the next short while. This writing project has sustained me over the past several years, I think because I am gambling that it will ultimately ensure some small measure of "immortality". After my early brush with death, the idea of immortality coupled in a slow dance with obscurity has haunted my thoughts.

Michael R. Gaudet: Muralist, Author, Kidney Health Advocate

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saskatchewan Government Awards Mural Contract

About three months ago I got the head's up from a good friend that Saskatchewan Government Employees' Union (SGEU) was in the market for a mural-painter and they were launching a competition to find the best fit in the province.

I have entered quite a few of this type of thing and have always received a polite but curt rejection letter, despite my best, most sincere efforts. "Oh what the hell," I thought. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." 

So I wrote a very brief description of what I might do and included a  link to my mural-painting portfolio. If I remember correctly, I dashed off maybe three courteous sentences, that's about it. I wasn't going to go on and on, trying to convince the panel what an amazing painter I am and that I was their go-to guy for murals. I figured I would let my work speak for itself.

Apparently this rather modest approach was the right way to go, because lo and behold...last week I opened up my inbox to read, in part, "I have some great news for you! After reviewing over 25 serious samples, our panel has chosen you to create both of our murals that will be used in our billboard ad campaign." It was Kathryn Engel, Communications Officer for SGEU writing!

I was summoned to appear for the first design conference at their Regina headquarters yesterday. Things are progressing very rapidly, as they wish to launch the campaign this June and also, have my original paintings permanently installed in their shiny new building, that they are moving into at about the same time. The plan is for me to paint a scale version of my design that will then be photographed and blown up to full-scale for the (gigantic) billboards that will be erected at two prominent outdoor sites along the highway.

Kathryn Engel and I seal the deal with a handshake.

I met with Kathryn as planned and she told me that all the panels members had gravitated towards my painting style during the course of the competition. She was very gracious and enthusiastic during our meeting. Just before I left her office, I requested that we pose for an official photo, in front of an SGEU logo. She readily agreed and asked an assistant to make it happen. She was pressed for time...had a speech to write for the SGEU president, so I was grateful that she took the extra few minutes to do this.

Dear reader, these two murals will materialize from scratch very rapidly over the next couple of months, so please stay tuned to this space. It will be a fast and furious painting adventure, that will blossom before your eyes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Painting a Witchy Woman

Portrait painting is by far the most challenging genre, in my opinion.

When painting a landscape, who would ever know if a tree looks "right"? My point being, the other genres are, in most cases, more forgiving and plastic. Portraiture on the other hand must exhibit a certain precision, finesse and a convincing "realism" that cannot be faked or fudged.

Now, I'm referring to the realistic portrait here. I make it a point to push beyond mere realism to drill into the "feeling" or "spirit" of the model. For me, while it is challenging to evoke the physical resemblance of my model, it is even more so to tease out the that when you enter a room with the painting, there is a sense of the person there with you.

I decided to post some of the pivotal steps that were taken to create this portrait, but by no means the fourteen or so distinct steps aka "glazes" that I would usually paint.

Instead of presenting what could be perceived as a "how-to" guide to portrait painting, with this post I will plunge ahead with highlights, both to save myself time and also, to alleviate the delayed gratification that comes along with too much information.

I was assured by the subject that she was very pleased, excited in fact, with the work-in-progress. I appreciated this, as it is not always easy to tell, from my somewhat myopic view of the canvas on my easel, how it really looked.

The above photo shows the portrait very close to completion. I instinctively feel that it still needs to be pushed, pulled and massaged a bit more before I will be completely satisfied. In this case, I was asked to include the subject's "spirit animals", her astrological sign and an amethyst element. You can see these aspects coming out of the dark spaces, invented and incorporated into the overall composition.

This is a portrait-painting encounter of the fourth kind...working and re-working the paints to elicit the old soul of my dear friend...who self-identifies as a Wicca Spirit and is a practicing white witch and light-worker. It was the least I could do, after our magical healing sessions. I still tingle just thinking about it.