Beyond the rains

By Mollie Kaye, February 2011

Danny Everett Stewart: seeing life’s intrinsic beauty.

It took love and death, according to artist Danny Everett Stewart, to extract him from Toronto’s big-city intensity. “I had two extremes, both pushing me.” His spouse Stephen had moved out here to Victoria, but Stewart was still reluctant. A few months later, he was robbed at gunpoint. Remembering that fateful day in 1994, he says, “I had four dollars on me—a two dollar bill in each pocket. They had the gun in my chest...I thought, ‘I’m dead, or I’m paralyzed.’ Everything had slowed down; not a car was going by, no one was around. Then, all of a sudden, everything sped up, cars went by, and [the assailants] were gone.”

This harrowing event, he now concludes, was a gift. “When the robbery happened, it was like it was meant to be; nothing else was going to motivate me.” He celebrates his life here with Stephen, surrounded by beauty. “I consider myself a Victoria boy now…Our families are still [in Ontario], and we visit them, but I really don’t like going back there.” 

The robbery, and other subsequent challenges, have all been inherently positive, he says. Insights, inspirations, new connections, and creative tours-de-force have all been born of what originally seemed the bleakest of circumstances.

That includes Stephen’s diagnosis with stage-four cancer a few years ago. “We thought he was dead,” says Stewart matter-of-factly. “Stage four meant you only have so many months to live.” Originally Stewart didn’t want to paint at all during that extremely difficult time. “Thankfully the Cancer Centre had wonderful programs of support; they said, ‘Why don’t you try…but I was afraid it would be really dark. Sure, I would feel better, but no one would want to hang it up.” 

Ultimately, the works he created at that time didn’t turn out dark after all. Says Stewart, “What I thought was going to happen didn’t happen, and what did happen was extraordinary for me—not only in the pieces, but in my life as a whole.”

“The work that came out of that was absolutely gorgeous,” he says, recalling both his triumph in creating the canvases, and the gifts of insight the process brought. “I saw a beginning; I thought the end was near, but it’s not...there’s so much beauty in life.” With a situation like that, he says, “you see things differently. I was able to see the positive aspects of things. [Stephen and I] now concentrate more on each other, and the things that are important—and we don’t put things off; we just do it. I think there’s a beauty in that freeness, and it really came across in those paintings.” And, he reports, Stephen’s condition has stabilized, thanks to a new drug. Another gift.

Stewart’s ability to see beauty in even harsh circumstances has provided endless fuel for his creative fire. “I find that when you’re out of ideas, something will happen, some sort of thing in your life, negative or positive...but it happens, and all of a sudden you’re creating again. Ultimately, there is no negative experience.”

This applies as well to Stewart’s other work—as an accountant. “It kind of excites me when I solve problems—when I’m faced with a challenge, and I get through it.” Mental blocks happen in both professions, he says. While he finds each of his careers authentic and satisfying, he says, “I can’t get my emotions out when I do numbers. It doesn’t release me from any of my feelings, and doesn’t help me explore them, either. Painting does that.”

Painting since childhood, the first confirmation he remembers is winning first prize in a county fair for a painting he did in grade two. “They gave me a little bit of money too; I think it was five dollars, which was like thousands at age seven.” He believes that we all have certain things programmed into us through our DNA. “My dog is a border collie; he acts like a border collie...people are like that too. I was bred for painting and crunching numbers. There’s a certain art to numbers.”

In his art, Danny Everett Stewart works in every scale, from two inches square to over six feet high, and utilizes thick applications of acrylics and oils. “They’re mostly bright and vibrant—lots of colour,” says the artist.

Especially fascinating for him lately is the effect of looking through the old, wavy glass of his 1911 home and out into the garden. “The glass seems like it’s dripping, and the colours are blurry and skewed and mashed together. One of the things I love about that house is seeing green through those windows—or flowers—I’ve got to try to recreate it. That’s where all of these paintings were born,” he says of his current show at the Madrona Gallery on View Street/Trounce Alley.

Though he knows he can’t please everyone, he says, “Putting paintings up on the wall for the very first time and letting people see them is like putting your soul out on the laundry line for the whole neighbourhood to see. You’re vulnerable; you’re not in your little safety zone. Maybe that’s why I get scared. But if I think I can do better and haven’t given my all, that’s where I stop and say, ‘I have to create something else.’”

 

Danny Everett Stewart: Beyond the Rains runs February 11-25, with an opening reception February 11, 5-9 pm, at Madrona Gallery, 606 View Street (entrance on Trounce Alley as well). www.madronagallery.com, 250-380-4660.

Mollie Kaye is Focus’ staff writer.