John Easter used to look at abstract paintings with a sarcastic and skeptical eye, seeing little more than a mess of color hastily splashed across a canvas. Where others were inspired to praise, he was inspired only to patronize.
His perspective – on that and most everything else – has understandably changed.
A life-threatening work accident about three years ago flipped Easter’s world upside down. He’s found firm footing once again after a lengthy struggle, thanks in part to a medium he once found foolish.
His first art opening, featuring a handful of original abstract paintings, was Saturday night at Kagem Chic Designs at 2 Kennedy Drive.
“Honestly I never liked abstract, because I’d watch people do them and make fun of people because they were just making a mess. I never understood why people thought it was so cool,” Easter, 31, said. “But you are actually planning it out and you know what you are going to do, for the most part, so you get certain effects rather than just making a mess. It’s a lot of fun and it looks good. I have a lot more respect for it now.”
That respect came quickly, as Easter has been painting for little more than a year. Though he said he’s always been interested in activities like carving and drawing, he had never put brush to canvas until he lost his career as a stoneworker following a frightening incident on the job.
Easter was working through one of the hottest days of the summer when he started feeling dehydrated and uncomfortable. He decided to push through, though, and it was a decision that nearly cost him his life.
Essentially, his entire body, organs and all, shut down.
“The doctor said I pretty much came as close as possible to working myself to death in one day,” Easter said.
Part of Easter did die that day. He was told he could never return to the only profession he’d known, a job he’d come to associate with his personal worth. What followed was a downward spiral of painful financial and emotional turmoil.
Easter never would have predicted it before the accident, but art became the light at the end of that tunnel.
“I pretty much got stripped of everything I defined myself by. That was my career, and I went through a pretty rough stretch financially just because I had no other training and trying to get a job when the job market was worse than it had been in a long time,” Easter said. “One of the toughest things about it, I always defined myself by my strength, and I felt like I had been stripped of my manhood. To have it all ripped out, I was pretty upset for awhile.
“In between I started doing more art, because I had more time. That’s what opened it up for me.”
One of his early projects was a visit to the Concord Arts Market, where he performed live spray paint art, filling a plain posterboard with color in front of crowds of people. He’d take requests for scenes and sell the works for between $5 and $20.
He also found painting lessons by artist Tim Gagnon on YouTube and thought it was something he could tackle, so he began by painting some landscape scenes.
He followed the painting path into abstracts, unlikely though it was, and has more than a dozen pieces of work hanging at the gallery in Concord.
“I just saw a couple of abstracts that didn’t look like a mess to me. You could tell the person put a lot into them, and just the way you can make them come out with different textures and certain designs that look cool from different angles,” Easter said. “Everything like that opened it up to me a lot more and made me want to try to do something along those lines.”
As if there wasn’t enough personal emotion in his first gallery opening, four of the paintings included in the display were done by his 8-year-old daughter, Alex, who started by imitating one of her father’s pieces and branched out to make a few more of her own. Three years removed from a life-threatening incident, Easter not only had the opportunity to debut as an accomplished artist but also had the chance to do so alongside his child.
Painting is something that will be part of Easter’s life going forward, he said, and something he hopes he can turn into a reliable second income. But regardless of the monetary return, the activity-turned-passion has already been fruitful.
“It was definitely a big help to me. Besides having God in my life, if I didn’t have painting to be able to get into and the self-expression through that and just being creative and having that thing I could turn to when I was bored with nothing else to do? It definitely helped get me through a tough time.”