From mess to masterpiece


Art class helps Deer Lodge residents overcome barriers to creative expression

By Ryan McBride

To some, the tiles look like alien landscapes or brightly streaked squares of marble. To others, they evoke the masterpieces of surrealism or abstract art. No two are the same. For those who created them, they are treasures.

This fall, nearly two dozen Deer Lodge Centre residents took part in a unique arts and crafts activity facilitated by Chris Bissett, who works in the Centre’s recreational services department.

“Making the mess is half the fun,” says Bissett. Together they mixed water, glue and acrylic paints, then poured the sticky mess onto ceramic tiles. By tilting the tile this way and that, each resident controlled how the multi-coloured mess spread across the surface and flowed into expressive patterns and shapes.

Bissett, who has worked at Deer Lodge since 2015, says that of all the activities he’s facilitated for residents, this one has met with the most enthusiasm. “No matter how inartistic you think you are, this makes you an artist.” The tile-painting activity makes creative expression possible for people who might not otherwise have the ability to create art. “They pick the colours, and if they can’t use their hands, they use mine: I move the tile whatever way they tell me to, so the paint goes where they want it to go.”

The tiles dry for 24 hours, then got a coat of acrylic clear-coat. “No matter how you do it, you never get the same result twice.”

Bissett says he noticed that as the activity progressed, the artists became more social, comparing their work to those of their neighbours. He could see those who couldn’t communicate smiling at the beautiful tiles they’d made. “Some weren’t all that keen to take part at first. But when they saw what the others were creating, and how much fun they were having, they had to get right in there. Some even ended up making more than one tile.”

The reaction to the workshop from participants and peers alike has been so positive, he’ll be conducting more in the months ahead.

A self-described “ex-biker with a shaved head,” Bissett is quietly emotional about how the workshop has impacted him. “Seeing them light up at the work they did, and the affirmation of their peers, means more to me than anything.”