The power of art Paintings help family cope with tragic loss
Sun Aug 12 2007
A friend once mocked the hackneyed cliché by insisting that he knew art, he just didn’t know what he liked.
Reflexively, I have said I know nothing about art but that is disingenuous. Like others, I don’t have the vocabulary of those who know art, but I know it in the way any of us do. I am a sentient being. I feel art and I can figure it out or wallow in its mystery.
It is art’s evocative power that gives it superiority over reason. No matter what you think, when you get caught up in a Caravaggio or mesmerized by Mozart you are putty and puny.
And so it was, when I saw the canvasses splattered by molten enamel that put on public display the trials of my friend Megan Vun Wong, who has walked through a volcano over the past two years.
Megan and Edward Vun were married 26 years and were slavishly devoted to three young daughters when Ed — quiet, humble, ever-smiling — died instantly of a brain aneurysm on Mother’s Day, 2005, after he had made his family dinner. No inkling, no preparation. “Shocking” does not describe his death and its effect. This was a man, a successful financial adviser, who hauled the family along on out-of-town business meetings.
“The kids remember him trying to make a tree house in the pouring, pouring rain in the dark because he wanted to get it done before the next day when he had to go back to work,” Megan says. That was Edward: utterly devoted and always giving.
His death was seismic to the family. He was widely loved, such that an overflow of mourners was funnelled to an ante-room at his funeral. There wasn’t enough Kleenex in the joint. “It (his death) didn’t make sense.”
Megan is an accomplished artist, and a bundle of energy. She wears her joy of life on her face, in bold and bright colours, and in her irrepressible hairdo. Her effervescence is reflected on her canvasses with dashing, bright colours and shimmering lines. That was before the day Ed died. She stopped painting for a time. She scrambled to pull back together the sundered pieces of her family, to find a new normal and cope with all the “firsts” without Ed — graduation ceremonies, birthdays, Christmas.
It can be a paralyzing odyssey; for artists, pain is combustible. What comes out of the fire is the stuff of awe.
Megan Vun Wong’s exhibit at Ken Segal Gallery on River Avenue opened last Wednesday night. The acrylics on canvas from 2006 are gut-wrenching. They are dark, and telling and then there is the piece “Was-Is” that speaks of the transformation, five to four, past to future. Deeper into the narrow gallery sit the works that hint of a transformative accomplishment.
Two large vertical canvasses hold swaths of light and swaying Madonna-like figures, the illumination struggling with the dark. Or that’s what I felt. They are bold, swirling and high in contrast, metallic and hard, running up against smooth and soft lines of a material that takes on a plastic quality. Smaller, square canvasses explode with big orange, silver, red and blue. I felt I had backed hard into a brick wall I never noticed.
Megan believes she is the only one working with enamel paint this way on canvas. “I don’t use a paint brush.” She says she lets the enamel take over.
“I pour it on. I wait.”
She discovered the process by accident and coincidental to her realization how utterly controlling is fate. “Maybe it’s Edward’s gift to me. He’s still giving.”
I was overcome by a sense that Megan has overcome — she calls it her restoration — and found her way through the tunnel. The colour has returned to her life and the girls are flying: One is on the last legs of a law degree, another is in architecture and the youngest is about to hit high school and has declared she will be a doctor.
They were on hand Wednesday to show off their mom, who was as effusive as I’ve ever seen her. There were so many people she had to talk to, to thank for coming to see the resurrection, to celebrate her victory.
As I was leaving, I heard Megan shout to one of her girls, “Evy, I need another bottle of white from the fridge at the back.”
A dutiful, reluctant teen fetched the libation and wrested off the cork to rekindle the party.
Pour it on.