David Solie is a graduate of the University of Washington, University of Manitoba, and the University of Colorado Medical School, and practiced as a licensed physician assistant for several decades. He is the author of books on eldercare and inter-generational communication, and writes about aging, caregiving, healthcare, art and poetry, and many other topics on his blog. You can see more of David’s artwork on his website, End of the World Art.
Hi David. Thank you for speaking with us today. This is your second time participating in Living Artistically with Parkinson’s. Can you talk a little bit about the role that art making has played in your life?
I started painting in graduate school in Seattle. I took some classes, with watercolors and developed a deep connection with the medium, process and role. But to the outside world, I was pretty casual about it – I remember a friend of mine told me I had talent, and I dismissed the thought. I painted watercolors for about five years, before I moved to Canada to continue my graduate studies. The move put my painting days on hold for decades.
After my Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2015 I started painting again, and I started spending more time playing piano. Playing music and having a creative outlet really calmed me and helped me deal with the diagnosis. But my return to painting was not with watercolors. Instead, it was with an iPad; this change in medium opened up a stunning new universe of creativity for me.
I showed some of my initial digital paintings with my wife – she’s a great judge of art – and she said I had something, and that I shouldn’t walk away from it. And I didn’t. After a decades long hiatus, the artist in me returned full force, with a new passion and purpose.
I enjoyed participating in “Living Artistically” last year. There’s a photo of me in front of the gallery – that photo really makes me feel like an artist. I can tell from my smile in that photo that making art is really important to me. A friend saw it and said it was the first time they’d seen me smile since my diagnosis.
Are there other things that help you live well with PD?
Parkinson’s is a hard disease because it impacts EVERYTHING – your brain, eyes, heart, your voice…everything, everyday. You’ve got to have a plan for facing the disease. You have to practice gratitude – be grateful for what you have; appreciate the support from your friends and family. I have awful days with Parkinson’s – I’m not trying to romanticize it – but gratitude helps.
Rick Warren, a well-known pastor in Orange County, says in his book The Purpose Driven Life, that your greatest suffering is your ministry, an expertise you didn’t ask for,s but one that can help others who are struggling with the same affliction. Combined with gratitude, this higher purpose makes all of us with Parkinson’s disease ambassadors to each other, a bond that carries us over the rough days that come all too frequently.
Making art and participating in art exhibitions helps me cope with PD. I take a singing class with Music Mends Minds (a nonprofit organization that creates musical support groups for people living with PD, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other neurological conditions), which really brings people together in a wonderful way. I also participate in a Parkinson’s support group.
Some of your paintings are accompanied by pieces of writing. Can you tell us more about those?
Over the years, I’d noticed people staring at paintings in art galleries, searching hard for a way to connect with the work’s meaning and the artist’s intention. So I created a point of connection to my art, giving each painting a snippet of prose or poetry about the work. I call them “Back Stories.” Each of my paintings has a Back Story that is displayed with it.
I find that people want words for works of art, some clue about where to look, how to think about it, and its possible meaning. Yes, they want to be able to feel the art but they also want to understand it. My Back Stories offer an onramp for that understanding.
Part of our legacy as artists is to tell the story of our works and who we are. My Back Story cards, in their own small way, contribute to that legacy.
I love the cat paintings! Tell us more about them.
It goes back to my childhood. I’ve always had cats – I just love them. They’re loyal, and they’re elegant, and they make great painting subjects! (see more of David’s cat paintings on his website)
Thanks for talking with us David. We look forward to seeing you and your paintings at Living Artistically with Parkinson’s!