“I saw a lot of violence. A lot of anger. A lot of death, and I found it very difficult to move in this world,” says artist Paul Shilling, recalling his turbulent youth. “But just below the Chakra there’s a beautiful place. It’s called your fire. It’s called life. It’s called your center. I like to believe it’s your essence, your sacredness. I started to move into that. I started to believe, not believe but know inside from that place that I had something to offer – a believing in anything never served me. Now I’m in a place where I really truly know, inside myself, where I’m coming from and who I am.”
The youngest of thirteen children and brother of famed late artist Arthur Shilling, the self-taught painter’s life was besieged with pain when he began painting following the death of his mother in 1980. “I started to paint but I was still very alone, very quiet, very withdrawn. It’s only been twenty years since I started to heal the broken child, the broken spirit.” Shilling soon recognized self-expression and self-liberation replacing the self-denial and self-destruction he had lived with for far too long. “I started to realize that I was none of those things that people had said to me,” he surmises thoughtfully.
Shilling’s distinctively dark bold paintings grabbed people with vibrant colors and haunted faces. It became apparent that even as he wrestled shadows – “Shadows are your experiences. Experiences are your teacher.” − his art would no longer live in the shadow of his brother’s. “I painted before but I always thought, how could two artists come from the same family? People would say, ‘It must be difficult for you to be in Arthur’s shadow.’ I thought about it for a while and I realized, no, I’m not in Arthur’s shadow. I’m not in any other master’s shadow. The only shadow I am in is the one that I created for myself. It’s this shadow that I have to crawl up from under and be who I am.”
Traditional First Nations tools – circles, sweat lodges and teachings – healed wounds and guided Schilling to a joyful place. “Living 35-years in the dark to all of a sudden moving into the light was very uncomfortable,” he admits. “It was strange, I didn’t think I deserved it right away.”
Today, the warm growly voiced artist is Zen and at times magical. His current art work – he also hosts sweat lodges – furthers his dedication to helping others heal and live bimaadiziwin – the good life. “Everything is done on the seven. The Seven Grandfathers, the seven years, Seven Grandmothers. It’s all about healing for me. It’s showing people that this is where we all need to go in order to live a good life. The bimaadiziwin life. When you heal, hatred, prejudice, drops away. It’s essential.”
When asked if Shilling finally feels that he is living bimaadiziwin, his response is swift and serene, “I am. I am.”
Originally written for Manifesto (2013). Check out Paul Shilling’s work here.