Sometimes painful experiences can cause people to lose interest in activities that once brought them incredible fulfillment. That’s not the case with Nashville artist Camille Engel. Her trials have actually driven her back to her original passion for painting; and each day spent doing something she truly loves brings another day of hope—and healing.
If you or an artist you know has a story that you would like to share in the Art That Heals section of the website, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to write Art That Heals in the subject line.
by Camille Engel
|Red Apple on Green Napkin
14 x 11. Private collection.
Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be an artist, but there seemed to always be someone or something standing in my way. My parents were hard-working professionals who did everything they could to prevent me from painting. They were not mean people, they meant well—they were just trying to spare me the heartache of becoming a starving artist. Later in life, a painful and toxic relationship with my ex-husband further discouraged my passion and interest in art; my spouse separated me from all that I loved and all that brought me fulfillment. Eventually, however, I escaped that physically abusive relationship and was able to finally pursue what I felt I was created to do.
Before I found the strength to leave, I had reached a place of complete emotional despair. Everything and everyone appeared ugly to me—I had lost the ability to see the beauty and meaning in life. One day, I picked up an apple and, just before I took a bite, I noticed how glorious and lovely this object was in its color, texture, and detail. It was at that moment that I realized that even though my life at that time was painful and ugly, there was still beauty to be noticed and appreciated. The result of this observation is myRed Apple on Green Napkin painting, which has basically served as a recovery testimony for me.
|Sunflower at the Old Factory
24 x 24. Private collection.
It was at that time that I determined, as a way to heal, to find three things daily for which I could be thankful, even if it was just the color of a flower or the sweet sound of a bird singing. Then one day in early autumn of 1999, at the age of 46, I was for the first time in my life encouraged to pursue my dreams, and from that moment on, all I could think about was painting. I went out and bought brushes, oils, and canvases—and rediscovered my passion. I often cry when I paint; I’m not quite sure if it is because I’m appreciating the beauty of the object I’m studying or if it’s because the process of painting is so much a part of who I was meant to be.
Red Apple on Green Napkin eventually ended up hanging in a museum at my first public exhibition. The staff reported that they had never had such a positive response to a show, which inspired me to enter this painting in “Realism 2003,” in New York City. It was one of only 25 paintings accepted from thousands of entries. When this painting—which signified my healing process and rediscovered passion—began receiving such positive attention, I decided to start painting full time.
|Home Sweet Home
22 x 28. Private collection.
The long, contemplative process of painting is very introspective for me: It's realizing the beauty we have on earth and also realizing the beauty in unlovely things. Because of my painful background—and the healing process I pursued to force myself to find beauty in life and not dwell on how I was being treated—I began looking at the world and people around me with gratitude, and exploring realism in detail is part of that process. The technical side of how I create my paintings is quite painstaking. I try to add layers and layers of color so there's interest in the painting other than what’s seen on the surface. That's one of the things that I think distinguishes me as an artist: I revel in the painstaking detail that most others find tedious.
Through studying and painting the simple transient beauty we too often overlook in everyday life, I am constantly reminded that each breath we take is a gift, and life should be embraced and enjoyed. I now see every morning as a fresh opportunity to find God’s extraordinary joy in the most ordinary things. I have chosen to embrace the painful process of life with great joy and make something beautiful out of something that was meant for harm. I truly believe each trial we face can be an opportunity to reflect the hope, grace, and healing that is available to us all.