Painters and partners
Gunshot victim finds his true passion at district hospital
An inspiring and motivational picture is currently being painted at the St Michael District hospital.
The masterpiece is being crafted by patient Christopher Benjamin and porter Laval Husbands, who both share a passion for painting.
Their story started five years ago when Laval, new to the hospital, asked 52-year-old Christopher to teach him a few painting techniques. Laval was impressed by the pieces the patient, though paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair,
had produced and even sold, to assist in purchasing his personal items.
“The first time I saw Christopher’s paintings I was like, ‘Wow!’. And one day I asked Chris for a painting, but he was so busy painting that he didn’t even see me . . . ,” Laval recalled as the two sat in the hospital’s lobby and to tell Barbados TODAY their colourful story.
Christopher admitted that at first he did not take the 29-year-old porter seriously, and often continued his brushstrokes when the young man came praising his work or attempting to strike up conversations with him.
“But when the hospital has open day, Laval would stick up my paintings –– and I didn’t know all the time that Laval could draw. Laval tell me one day, ‘I could draw, you know’. He told me that he just needed to learn how to paint.
“He bring the drawing and show me, and I say to myself, ‘Wow! This boy got ambition!’. So I taught him how to approach the painting technique by starting light first, and then heavy . . . ,” Christopher said.
Like an anxious child ready to learn to write on a clean slate, Laval was always keen to accept Christopher’s pointers and lessons whenever he got free time between his shifts. He had already begun to accumulate the tools for the trade, having invested in a variety of paints, boards, papers, pencils and whatever else was needed.
“I am very proud because Laval has come a long way. Look at his work,” Christopher said as he referred to Laval’s piece of a pregnant woman, which he said told a story of the budding painter’s future.
But, to digress, how did Christopher end up helpless in the confines of a district hospital? It was a bullet that did it, his being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I was in Queen’s Park and the police was looking for a guy that was robbing in the park at that time. So I was passing through, and the officers tell me ‘stop’, but I didn’t know they were officers because they were in plainclothes. I got frightened and I start running, and them start shooting at me.
“So when I jump over the wall, I got shot in the lower part of my spine. So the surgeons say them can’t operate on it because I might lose the mobility in my hands so I stick with that bullet up to now. But it causing me spasms and cramp in the feet.
“My hands even get nervous and I shake a little, but the doctors trying to combat it with medication. But I still could use the brush and once I got it in my hand the shakiness kind of go away for a while.”
After several developments in that case, Christopher was sent to the district hospital where he may be a resident for the rest of his life. When he got there, the nurses would not allow him to just sit and feel sorry for himself, watch his and other patients’ lives go by.
“I use to go in the day room and sit down; and the nurse say, ‘Chris, you are a young boy and I want you to be doing something; so I am going to be sending you to Day Care’. So I went to Day Care and the therapist asked me what I can do and I tell she, ‘Well, I could paint’, and she say, ‘Okay’.
“She brought me some paint, a brush and some paper and I started working and drawing flowers. And then a next therapist come and tell me that she know an artist name Janice Sylvia Brock and she going to get her to come and see me. Miss Brock came and see me and she brought all kinds of art materials and gave me tips.
“Right now, artist Clairmont Mapp helping me out too, and giving me a lot of encouragement. I painted five paintings every day from 2000 to 2005.”
Getting his inspiration from magazines and newspaper clippings, Christopher has become known for his flamboyant trees and village setting-focused pieces, among others. He is a proud member of the Pelican Arts Gallery and has shown his work at a number of art exhibitions.
“I just looking to get some work sell off now before I start back serious. I got a wound that I sitting on, so I can’t sit too long painting. I need a special cushion to sit on that cost $900. So when this here go out now I got to look to buy a new one; so I need to sell paintings.
“I can’t really lag too long without painting. I buy my own strappings and other things I need,” said the optimistic painter who boasted he also managed to open a bank account since he started painting.
As for the porter, he is harnessing and developing his skills well, painting whatever comes to mind, including village settings, animals, people, and abstract. Laval too has sold a few pieces and hopes that may be he can receive further training some day as he wants to become a professional.
But what stands out about this father of two is that he seeks to brighten not only the hospital landscape, but also the faces of the patients and staff.
“I am working here and I want to see the best for the patients and for the hospital also. The patients actually love the paintings and If I take down one they would be like, ‘Huh, a painting missing’, and they would ask me if I move it. Even if I am home and I come in here tomorrow I would know who was watching the paintings and even who touch the paintings,” he said.
During most of Laval’s spare time he can be seen painting. He explained he had developed a love for the art that relaxes his mind and allow him to express his feelings. It has also improved other areas of his life, teaching him the importance of discipline and patience, attributes his mentor told him he must have from the get-go.
“It sharpens your eyes and your vision; so what you see as a painter, the average man don’t . . . . But you must be disciplined, and have lots of patience, and I told him that from early,” Christopher intervened.
“According to how you feel is how you would paint. If you are very upset, you can’t work altogether, or you may do a piece that shows anger; and if you are happy, you would paint a beautiful and pretty painting,” Laval further explained.
“And, honestly, I would like to take this as far as possible because I actually love art. I have found something that I love doing. I also make chains and work on other little projects.
“I actually inspired a couple young people who have seen my work and want me to teach them what I know. There is also a nurse who is a good drawer and she is interested in learning to paint, and I told her yes. I am going to help out other people because somebody helped me out,” a thankful Laval promised.
Through art, he and Christopher have formed a bond and friendship they continue to nurture and cherish.
Said Laval: “Chris and I have a very good understanding, and we sit down and crack a lot of jokes; we talk and reason about life. He teaches me about painting and everything that he actually learned.”
In Christopher’s eyes, “Laval does a whole lot more for me. When I go to the hospital he is there to help me in and out. Laval is always there . . .”.
Awaking to an uncertain future every day, and using his love of painting to offer him comfort and support, along with encouragement from Laval and some staff members, Christopher has sworn to keep pushing on.
“I think Laval is going to go a far with his painting, because he is creating more than one style,” he declared.