Thursday, October 16, 2008

Schizophrenia sufferer loses himself in art

An article posted October 14th on SouthShoreNow.com:

To view this article as it appeared in the newspaper, click here.
By Paula Levy

Richard Balser receives art instruction from Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path. The Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is raising funds to help pay for lessons.

In his small apartment on King Street in Bridgewater, Richard Balser's kitchen is often turned into a makeshift studio. During the day he confesses to spending hours with an easel and paintbrush perfecting the smallest of details in his art.

"I feel really happy when it does turn out well." He smiles when showing several pieces he is currently working on.

Mr. Balser, 52, has paranoid schizophrenia. In addition to his mental illness, Mr. Balser was blessed with the ability to paint.

"I like it better than a photograph," says Mr. Balser, calling attention to framed pieces in his living room. "It's an outlet because I don't think about my illness when I paint. … With my art it's so therapeutic because I can be ordinary and normal, like everybody else."

Few people have ever seen Mr. Balser's art. Up until recently his friends and family were really the only people who knew he was able to take a pallet of paints and transform them into beautiful canvas paintings.

Mr. Balser lacked the confidence in his abilities to publicly display his creations. His lack of self-assurance was a direct result of dealing with tormentors for most of his life.

"People are really cruel sometimes," he says, noting that on top of being made fun of, he was dealing with bouts of psychosis.

But with the help of Jan House and the Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, his work is finally beginning to leave his apartment and he is slowly developing confidence in the gift he feels came from his mother.

Ms. House remembers how Mr. Balser volunteered to paint name tags for the chapter. When she saw the amazing creations, she knew that Mr. Baler's talents shouldn't go unnoticed.

"I couldn't believe it. He had painted the most gorgeous irises," says Ms. House.

Last year the charitable group held several events to raise money to help fund art lessons so that Mr. Balser's natural skills could be further developed. The group enrolled him in lessons with Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path.

This year Mr. Balser is ready to take advanced art lessons. To help pay for this year's classes, the chapter is holding a Wine Tasting and Silent Art Auction at the Fairview Inn on October 24 from 7 to 9 p.m.

It will be the first time that Mr. Balser will have a public showing of just his art and the paintings will be auctioned to pay for art lessons. Ms. House says each piece of art will be paired with a bottle of wine that will be labelled with a replica of Mr. Balser's work.

Ms. House notes that his art teacher is also encouraging Mr. Balser to finish paintings and to believe that his work is indeed good enough for and worthy of public viewing.

In fact, Ms. Knickle-Mason convinced Mr. Balser to allow her to take one of his paintings to an art sale. Mr. Balser sold that painting. It was the first piece he has ever sold.

"I am a professional artist," smiles Mr. Balser in disbelief. He is continuing to work on confidence in his abilities as an artist.

Richard Balser receives art instruction from Janet Knickle-Mason of Indian Path. The Lunenburg County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is raising funds to help pay for lessons.

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