Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reflecting the light

Day 10
The 12 Days of Christmas at the DI

Everyone wants to leave footprints behind them. My art is my footprint. Reg Knelsen
At last count, he says he's had over 137 jobs in his life, the first one at the age of 15 when he moved to Calgary and became the youngest Assistant Manager at A&W in Canada. "I was pretty proud of that one," he says. "It lasted one month."

Since then he's moved across Canada. Across the economic scale. Across the divide between abundance and lack. "I've sat in my living room with the cathedral ceiling on my Italian leather sofa, sipping a beer and watching the fire, and I've been miserable. I've had stuff, lots of it, and still been miserable. Stuff didn't do it. What does it for me is my art."

He is a man of deep intellect. Perceptive. Thoughtful. Generous. He is continually giving staff and visitors to the Wild Rose Studio at the shelter small tokens of his appreciation. He holds out a box of bookmarks to a young child, a warm smile on his face as he encourages them to take one, delighting in their choice as if it was the most amazing choice in the world.

"Maybe," he says of his gift-giving, "that child, or adult even, never received a gift from a stranger before. Especially a homeless one. Maybe that one gift will open that child's mind to the idea that people, no matter where they live, have value. Just like that tiny scrap of paper upon which I painted a design. It had no value until I found its worth in the image I painted upon it."

He paints on canvas. On scraps of wood. Old flooring. Discarded bowls. A table top. A stool. Anything he finds, or friends find for him, on their journey through the city. Found art. That's what he calls it.

Like himself. "I've found myself again here in this space. This space of magic. Of possibility. Of dreams unfolding," he says of the art studio where he is one of the founding members and a core volunteer.

"Look what this has done for me," he says, where he stands in the corner of the studio plying paint upon a piece of wood, creating a scene of wonder. "I never name my paintings. Their real name lies in the person who buys it and takes it home. I always ask my purchasers to name the painting. Then it becomes a collaborative piece. Then they have a part in the painting and a part in me."

He believes in making sure people have a part in the studio. He believes that everyone has a role to play.

"This place came to be because we all shared a dream and kept working towards that dream unfolding. If we get more people to come into the studio and share in the dream, who knows where it can go? Who knows what could happen?"

Reg Knelsen has been coming to for over three years. In that time he's painted hundreds of images upon the found objects, and the more traditional surfaces, of his craft. Most recently, he shared his feelings and experiences of becoming rehoused. Of being a working man with a day job, and a passion for the arts and a desire to touch hearts and minds and souls with his visual stories.

In Reg's words:

"Coming Into the Light"
(Reality reflecting the light)

Just where is it written down that one's solitude is a sought after value? Are we not social creatures who have placed value in our interpersonal relationships? This getting used to silence, peace and space of one's own is a lengthy process. It took this man six months to realize he did not need to put the protective cap back on his razor. No one was going to touch it. This of course carries over to all the matters of household chores, or if you will, the ghost work we all do.

After twenty years of not being in one job for even a year, I find myself on the verge of hitting another landmark. One year on one job, of all things, doing laundry in a homeless shelter. Albeit, it is only 30 hours a week. However, combined with my volunteer work in the studio, it probably works out to a full-time job.

Accomplishments after accomplishments. This must be an affliction of some sort. A moment of accomplishing this passion I speak often about. Reflecting the light.


This joy that I have in my energy (money), allows me to share in small ways with others. Ram (Project Forward) did not touch on this. His emphasis was on saying 'no' to requests for money, cig's, etc. Perhaps philanthropic values are not measured in the amounts but in the value of the act. (Many acts of kindness, occasional acts of great beauty.) Of course, what value you put on kindness or beauty will determine what those acts are.

My experiences here, growth, have now allowed me to realize that at times I must shut my eyes to see (hear) the beauty in what someone is saying. The very visual image that some of the clients present to me alters what I hear, also what I smell will also alter what I hear. I try to shut those out to hear/see the beauty.

My senses have increased over the years here. My art grows as I try to bring the feel, smell, sound, taste, sight of all that is in me and around me. My journey is growing to where I now paint the glory of pain, depression and all the lower emotions. My direction is to reflect to those that have not experiences this life or mind, the incredible places and people and things I have met and sensed.

I've now been making up my own titles for the pictures I paint. They are spontaneous and will not be put on each picture. (I still want people to put their titles on, they have great value. And, they become part of my journey.) But, in each painting my senses have gone into it so if they want to know, I will tell them.

The uncertainty of my life (I make plans. Life happens.) creates an energy of its own. Working with unstable people and artists creates a need for out of the box thinking while still holding onto my values and boundaries.


Reg is going home for Christmas. "The greatest part of this trip home is I've paid for my own ticket," he says. Two years ago his Christmas wish was for a ticket home to BC. He received it and reconnected with family he hadn't seen in years. "This year, I'm taking them all out for dinner. My treat." He laughs. "This having a regular paycheque. Planning for special things, is pretty exciting."

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