|Patricia Killien stands with her whimsical plasticine work called Faces. |
Killien calls her art style "whimsy," but there's nothing whimsical about the condition she overcomes to create her paintings.
When Killien was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's disease at age 42, she was devastated.
"And afraid - deeply afraid. You see old people incapacitated and with shorter life-spans. You never know how long you have before that happens."
She volunteered in various studies, hoping for reprieve. One treatment left her with a titanium disc in her head. The idea was that it would keep the medicine from crossing the blood-brain barrier.
"It had worked in monkeys. It didn't work in me," she said with a smile.
But Killien and her husband David decided to live life, taking it as it comes. He retired early and they travelled while she was able, seeing much of the world.
She gradually had to give up her dual career of real estate and restoring old houses.
Meanwhile, they moved from Ontario to B.C., having fallen in love with Kelowna during a vacation. For a while, they moved back to be near family, but returned four years ago to call Kelowna home. Two of their children live in B.C. and two in Ontario.
Killien then took up painting.
"This became my creative outlet," she said, realizing if she couldn't restore old homes, she could paint them. With few lessons, her style is partly learned from books and mostly self-taught by experimentation. She painted old houses or streetscapes that caught her attention, not always knowing why.
"I like to explore. I like to do things my way. And painting was something I could do in private. You're never sure if you're going to have on or off times with Parkinson's."
She explained you can work your art around the bad times. It's always a balancing act with tremors, medications, dosages, uncontrolled movements and side effects - you're constantly juggling to get it right.
When her fine motor skills deteriorated, typical for Parkinson's, Killien realized the watercolour skills were going. So she decided to try acrylics and a new style.
"I call it whimsy, because it's different, very fun, colourful.
"With acrylics, if you make a mistake you can paint over it. Watercolour is not forgiving," she said. The parchment you paint on absorbs the watercolour and another coat is too delicate to cover.
Her acrylics are actually mixed media. She uses organic paper, metals, bits of this and that, "whatever strikes my fancy," and incorporates these into the painting to add texture and interest.
One work is a display of tiny masques, called Faces, built from baked plasticine. The Faces offer every expression imaginable, and you're sure she used your Uncle Mort as a model for one or two.
One of Killien's favourite collections is a group of four paintings of trees. She says with a smile, "This is how God would make trees if He were rich."
One is the birthday tree, which has sitting birds matching the number of the birthday person's years. One is a group of birch trees, with tiny glass squares to reflect light, one has huge silver metal leaves, and another features red sparkles.
When did she realize she had talent? Killien says modestly, "I still don't know for sure. But people seem to like it and I get a lot of pleasure from it."
David explains her style and her drive: "She never gives up. She's Patricia Killien who happens to have Parkinson's, not Parkinson's victim Patricia Killien."
Killien offers a little advice for would-be artists who wrestle with Parkinson's or similar diseases:
"Nothing has to stop you. The only thing you are limited by is your imagination."
She adds from her own experience, "Make time for listening to yourself. I focus on my wellness, not my illness."
She opened her first exhibition at age 70, and on her first day sold a painting. One of the owners at Little Straw Vineyards had taken a look at Killien's work and offered her space for December, and again in high tourist season, July and August.
Little Straw is located at 2815 Ourtoland Rd. in West Kelowna.