A Most Unusual Artist
The square-rigger has five masts. All its sails billowing in the wind, the ship plows through a sea alive with whitecaps. You can almost smell the salt air and feel the cool tingle of the moist breeze—as if you were standing on the ship’s foredeck. But you’re not. You’re looking at a painting. The artist has captured not only the beauty of The Majestic Maiden but the living experience of watching it ride the waves.
This painter has won acclaim throughout North America with the more than 2,500 landscapes and seascapes he has painted over the past 27 years. A large Canadian bank chose his painting “Next Stop Japan” for their 1981 calendar, which was sent to customers worldwide. In addition, he is an instructor of art classes in oil painting in Vancouver, where he teaches 15 to 25 pupils each Saturday.
What’s so remarkable about all of this? The artist is paralyzed from the neck down—he is a quadriplegic!
AT THE age of 19 polio struck, leaving 95 percent of my body paralyzed. For the next 21 years the Pearson Hospital in Vancouver was my home. However, it was not like an ordinary hospital. The staff and the patients were like a big family. This mental and emotional support helped me so much during the first months of confinement.
During those early months, my outlook on life was rather cynical. I reasoned that I would simply live from day to day until death ended everything. I saw no other hope. Hence, I got into the bad habit of drinking to drown my sorrows and frustrations.
Nevertheless, I liked to work. The occupational therapists tried to interest me in a variety of activities, such as basket weaving and typing with a mouth stick. My interest in those things quickly flagged. Then one therapist started me out on a number painting. I was so thrilled with my accomplishment, primitive though it was, that I immediately started on another!
My therapist fixed me up with an 18-inch (46-cm) mouth holder for my brushes and charcoal, with easy access to a palette, cleaning rags, and turps. By December 1957 I had painted an A-frame (obsolete logging apparatus), which my mother instantly recognized!
A staff doctor, who was himself an accomplished painter, taught me the intricacies of drawing, color combination, form, and other techniques involved in creating a beautiful canvas. However, there were problems. For example, to reach the top of a large canvas with my mouth-held brush or palette knife, the canvas had to be placed upside down! Before long it became a matter of course to complete a painting in that upside-down position.
Within a year I had sold several of my paintings. But much of the money went to support my craving for tobacco and alcohol. Nevertheless, I was soon able to pay my own hospital expenses, giving me a feeling of independence.
The acquisition of an electric wheelchair (controlled by mouth) and then a van adapted to carry my chair and necessary breathing equipment were all milestones to mobility. To further this, I designed a portable rocking bed, which friends built for me, enabling me to spend nights away from the hospital. All of this proved to me that a person can do just about anything if he sets his mind to it.
Something New Enters My Life
My mother became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1958. Though the things she told me made no lasting impression, I accepted a Bible study from a kindly man. ‘Something else to fill in time,’ I figured. However, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Gradually, many of my questions about the meaning of life and the problems facing mankind were answered. The truths I learned from the Bible began to fit together like the strokes of an artist’s brush, painting a beautiful picture. Learning that one day sorrow, suffering, sickness, and death would be gone, I began to look ahead to the future with real hope. (Revelation 21:3, 4) What appealed to me was the fact that what I was learning from my Bible lessons was so reasonable, sensible, and logical.
Then I began making changes—I broke off my bad habits of smoking, drinking, and the use of bad language. My friends at the hospital noticed the change in my personality, as did my new friends among Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of these, Pat, the widowed mother of five lovely children, became very dear to me. Thus, there came another great change in my life.
Over 300 people attended our wedding in 1976. Of course, married life meant many new adjustments for Pat and me. Pat has proved to be an example of real courage and love; I require constant care. But the application of Bible principles has certainly been the basis for happiness in our marriage.
Together, Pat and I built up a small business, so that within five years it was possible for us to go off the government pension for handicapped families. We’re also selling prints of some of my paintings. As a result, in 1985 I purchased a more powerful mouth-operated electric wheelchair. This enables me to get out in the work of preaching the “good news” from house to house to a greater extent.
We all have limitations. So a person has to go ahead, doing his best with what abilities he has. This mental outlook, coupled with the wonderful hope I have learned from the Bible, is what has helped me to have a full and rewarding life.—As told by David Young.
[Picture on page 27]
David Young at work in his studio