GOSHEN — The light that illuminates the bright colors of a local artist’s work now limits his ability to paint.
Chad Friesen has been painting for most of his life, adapting the process as the ataxia and seizure disorder, which cause him muscular tension and to shake, progressed.
To paint, he lay on a floor, holding himself up on his elbows, or sat in a massage chair that supported his body and head as he looked down at his work.
Over the past few years, though, Friesen’s disabilities have progressed to the point of impeding his painting.
Dean Preheim-Bartel, president of the group that market’s Friesen’s work, said that “Unless he blocks most light from his vision he risks seizures being triggered.”
“Having lived with severe physical disabilities much of his life, this has been a significant blow,” he said. “This condition has deprived him of a prime source of communication and creative expression—painting. After nearly 30 years, his paint brush is now silent.”
Preheim-Bartel was part of a group of church friends that organized God’s Eye Art Inc. in 1990 to market and sell Friesen’s work. The group’s name refers to the eye Friesen painted in his pieces, a symbol he saw above Muslim doorways when living in Israel and Lebanon as a young boy.
The God’s Eye Art board decided Saturday morning to either dissolve or sell the corporation by July 2012, Preheim-Bartel said.
A final exhibit and sale of Friesen’s paintings and clay masks also opened Saturday morning at The Old Bag Factory, 1100 N. Chicago Ave., Goshen, and runs through Dec. 17. The exhibit will be open Monday through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, during the opening hours of his final exhibit, Friesen sat in his wheel chair, a pair of Harley Davidson goggles, the lenses painted black, covering his eyes.
In a small room surrounded by his artwork, the 44-year-old man said he was feeling good about the day and about his final show.
His mother, Carol Nickel, said the day was a mix of emotions.
“It’s been really sad to get to this point,” she said, “except it’s going to always be with him.” She pointed out that he still remembers most of his pieces from years of painting.
His father, LeRoy Friesen, said that he didn’t think his son viewed the situation as a loss.
“He gave me the impression that this was a time to celebrate,” the elder Friesen said. At the same time, they don’t know what will replace painting in Friesen’s life.
“It raises the question, ‘How will he now communicate?’ I don’t think we have answers to that,” LeRoy Friesen said.
Board and family members hope to sell much of what is still available of Friesen’s work. Getting Friesen’s work to more people was why Preheim-Bartel wanted to begin God’s Eye Art more than 20 years ago.
“I saw the kind of work that Chad was doing and I knew he didn’t have the capacity of doing his own marketing,” he said. “I said, ‘More people need to experience what he is communicating with his art.’”
Preheim-Bartel said it’s the emotion Friesen puts in his work that impresses him.
“I find that his work is filled with a lot of intensity, a lot of emotion, both with the bright colors and with the boldness that he gives to the emotions he is feeling,” whether it’s joy or grief, anticipation or wonderment.
For Friesen, his artwork is much more than emotion.
“It’s prayer,” he said Saturday.
His mother added that “sometimes, he’s said it’s like a diary.”
While much of Friesen’s work is filled with bright colors and images of flowers, smiling clowns, dancers and animals, some of his works also express his thoughts on war and violence.
Those paintings are much darker, both in color and content. In a few, Preheim-Bartel said, Friesen painted U.S. flags upside down in opposition to U.S. involvement in war.
Nickel said that her son has very strong feelings about war, likely influenced by his family’s time in Israel and Lebanon in the ’70s.
“Whenever wars break out, the first thing he did was go to painting,” she said.
LeRoy Friesen said that painting “has probably saved his life.”
It gave him a way to express whatever he felt and greatly improved his quality of life, he said.
“He painted his hell and he painted his heaven,” he said, “and everything in between.”