WAT’S UP- Adam Sawatsky

Columnist Adam Sawatsky tells us about an inspirational artist he encountered in Beacon Hill Park

When I first saw Mary Ann Laing, I made the mistake of dismissing her. It wasn’t personal. I just didn’t really ‘see’ her. Thankfully, the cameraman I was working with did.

We were driving through Beacon Hill Park searching for a story for the end of the six o’clock news. Mary Ann was painting. The scene didn’t seem unusual or remarkable to me – an artist and an easel. The cameraman said I wasn’t really looking and told me to get out of the truck and talk to her. I begrudgingly agreed because our deadline was looming.

As we walked toward her, I saw that she knew what she was doing. I noticed how she transformed yellow oil paint into sunshine playing peak-a-boo behind a tree.

I also saw the bugs that landed on her legs. Tiny little flies she admitted made her “go a little crazy.” She later revealed she also endures carpal tunnel syndrome. Thanks to 35 years of painting, Mary Ann’s hands are either numb or filled with pain.

I ask why. Why is painting outside worth bugs on legs and discomfort in hands? “I can’t believe you’d even ask that!” she laughs. “Why did Beethoven go deaf? It’s passion! It’s life! It’s what keeps you afloat above all the other stuff we all have!”

Mary Ann knows about the stuff we deal with because she is also a mom and wife among other roles. Because she is also an artist, she’s learned to release life’s stuff creatively.

“Everything disappears. (When I paint) I’m free of bunk and junk and it’s just wonderful.” She says even the bugs and the pain disappear. “I’m oblivious. It’s hypnotic. It’s like meditation.”

It’s an intangible process that produces tangible beauty. During our conversation, the cameraman captures Mary Ann growing a dynamic garden on canvas.

“We are exposed to so much negativity in the world,” she says, “I think it’s really important to focus on beauty.

As we leave, I thank Mary Ann for reminding us to really see what surrounds us. And before the cameraman can say ‘I told you so’, I thank him, too.

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