I was late for work last Thursday.
Well, technically, I left my house on time, I wasn’t caught in traffic, I arrived in the parking lot on time. But artist Roy Henry Vickers was speaking with Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC radio, and I just couldn’t turn it off, so I sat there, outside the office, listening, and crying, until he was done talking. And then I went inside and logged on.
If you missed it, you can listen to the podcast here.
The transcript is online, but when a man like Roy Henry Vickers speaks his language, you want to hear it.
His high school art teacher dissuaded him from going to art school – not because he didn’t believe in Vicker’s ability to be an artist. To the contrary.
“Dd an old man a favour,” said his teacher, “and don’t study fine art. If you have to go to university, study anything but fine art. If you want to study art, study what who you want to study, not what the academy tells you you should study to get a degree. And if you have the fortune to find out who you are and create images from that special place, because every human being is special, then you may be creating something that only you can create. And you will know when that happens because people will come up to you and say, I was out fishing the other day and looking at the water and I saw your water, or I was looking at the sun going down and I saw one of your sunsets. And when you hear that you will know that you are creating impressions on people and helping them to see the world the way you see it.”
Roy Henry Vickers has been an artist for 42 years, and he’s heard that, plenty of times.
But it wasn’t a path without struggle.
Between 1987 and 1992, while he was hugely successful as an artist, his personal life was falling apart. He went through three marriages, made the most money he’d ever made, and felt like an absolute failure. He was an addict.
“Some people who convinced me that it was possible to make my life a work of art. And so I’ve been working at that ever since.”
In recovery, at a place called The Meadows in Arizona, he learned something vitally important.
“I learned that I was a beautiful person.”
“That I could stand in the strength and the truth and the beauty that my ancestors have given me and be the person that I was meant to be in this world.”
“There’s a saying that the ointment of the healer is telling stories. So if I’m going to be a healer to myself, then I share my story with those around me. And I have been doing this long enough to have met people who heard me 10 years ago or 15 years ago and helped them to change their lives and they’ve come up to me and told me in person. So, I have this assurance that I’m well-travelled on this path of recovery and I have no intention of being any other way than I am.
Addiction is what people turn to when they are not comfortable with their emotions. And so the addict is someone who is trying to get away from their emotions. I don’t want to be away from my emotions. Fear teaches me something, there is some danger present, and when I process the fear, I’m given wisdom. Pain helps me realize that there’s a pain that everyone carries and the more that I work at knowing where the pain comes from the more healing comes to me. And the more healing that comes to me the more healing I have to give to others. And that’s what life is about, is giving love and respect to the world around us.”
Wise man talking, right? Wisest thing to do, in my opinion, is to sit and listen. Even if it does make you late for work. 😉
All images here by Roy Henry Vickers.