Wat’s Up: Adam Sawatsky

Take a chance on the unknown, like local artist Richard Wong

I spotted my first grey eyebrow hair this morning. Actually it’s more silver. It caught my attention after light from the bathroom window reflected off it.

Whenever I’m faced with a tangible reminder of the passing of time, I think about the differences between the life we think we’ll live and the life we choose to live.

It reminds me of local artist Richard Wong. He spent the beginning of his life – as many do – focused on work (decades with Ministry of Environment) and family (raised three kids). The choice to paint didn’t happen until two years after he retired.

His life began to change after his wife gave him a watercolour kit for Christmas. She did it, he jokes, “presumably to keep me out of trouble.” Seeing as he hadn’t put paint to paper since elementary school, he decided to enroll in an art class. The first one was “frustrating” and he questioned his pursuit.

I get that. Like Wong contemplated putting down his paintbrush, I considered picking up precision tweezers.

But Wong persisted. During his second class, he painted ‘Duck with Cherry Blossoms.’ It received a rare accolade from his teacher, and Wong was transformed.

Now – just two years after that – the paintings you can see at richardwongwatercolors.ca are selling around the world, hanging in private collections from Quebec to Texas to Scotland. He’s also been accepted as an artist-in-residence for six-weeks in Cairns, Australia.

According to the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, most people in hospice wish they hadn’t spent so much time working. They also long to have had the courage to express their feelings, and chosen to be more happy.

Wong couldn’t be happier expressing himself through painting. He says it’s like meditation. The process allows him to feel balanced and filled with “peace and contentment.”

The 59-year-old suggests that others who’ve lived a life without art to, “go for it.”

As for me – I’m choosing not to ‘pluck away’ the unfamiliar things staring me in the face. I’ll take a chance on the unknown. The journey might be one I would regret not taking.

Adam Sawatsky reports on arts & lifestyle weekdays on ‘CTV News Vancouver Island with Hudson Mack’. On weekends he hosts ‘Eye on the Arts’ on CFAX 1070.