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Painting a whole new life

Following a terrible accident, artist Brian Porter created his own way forward
BEAR BEAUTY Brian Porter with one of his artworks. The Ontario painter came to Whistler to visit his supporters at the Plaza Gallery, and decided to marry his longtime partner. Photo submitted

Ontario wildlife painter Brian Porter was journeying west to visit some of galleries that carried his work when he decided to come all the way out to Whistler.

While visiting the resort and looking at his paintings, which are currently on display at the Plaza Gallery and on the walls of the Summit Lodge, he took that journey a step further by marrying his longtime partner, Niko.

"We had been engaged for a long time. We became engaged before any of this art stuff took off and it was me and her against the world," Porter recalls.

"I had an art show in B.C. in Invermere and I have a ton of artwork at Plaza Gallery, and Dave (Helfrich, the gallery's owner) wanted to take us out for dinner and introduce himself."

So out they came, they went out on the town, and they married at Alta Lake on May 25.

"Outside right by the lake. It was the only day it didn't rain!" he says.

"It was good. My agent was there and the gallery owner and his fiancé. We just basically eloped while we were out West because my family was watching our children and holding the fort while we were on this big art journey."

Porter's work has been with Plaza for the past four years.

He was a graffiti artist from his youth — hitchhiking across the country to do it, and going to Japan and Bali. He worked his way into murals and full-time art.

But his life shifted when he had a terrible factory accident in 2008; a bad fall that led to a brain injury. The art, which had for so long been a part of his life, was now on hold.

"It's all OK, God reset me," he says.

"When I was trying to get better, it nearly destroyed me. But a lady gave me the best advice. She told me, 'the old you is dead. You have to be reborn and accept who you are, what you're good at, what you're not good at. You have to figure out your limitations and become a new person.

"I figure that if I was going to become someone new, I should be better than I used to be."

What he did next was pure inspiration.

"When I hit my head, I was unable to draw at all. I spent about a year without drawing and one day I got to feeling that I really needed to fight for it," Porter recalls.

"I started locking myself in the house and forced myself to practice. I did everything. I practiced animals, I practiced figures, abstracts. I practiced everything I could and when I came up with a couple of really good pieces, I started touting them around art galleries and entered contests — and I was winning!"

An ambidextrous painter and drawer, Porter worked in Toronto and simultaneously started to get into galleries.

Now 38, he gives a lot of credit to his gallery friends and agent for getting his work into people's homes.

"It has been pretty beautiful; I've been blessed," he says.

He paints on canvas now, but his past has provided experiences to use today.

"I learned a lot about colour and texture with graffiti. You're always painting on brick, or steel, or working around corners. I worked on vehicles. You have to be aware of edges," Porter says.

"My palette knife in my right hand and my brush in my left is pretty much how you paint."

Helfrich is an enormous fan of Porter's work.

"I was first aware of his work when he started painting celebrities like Bob Marley and Marilyn Monroe. It was very unique. The first piece I got in I sold within a day," Helfrich says.

He suggested that Porter tried to paint animals and currently has 10 of his paintings in the gallery.

"We came up with some ideas and the result was just magnificent. Through the winter we probably sold 20 of his pieces. I'd say over half of those were shipped to Australia," Helfrich says.

Not every artist has that knack, he says.

"Brian has a style that is all his own. It's alive; there is so much movement to his pieces. The colour and three-dimensional style is what captures most people. Under different lighting the piece takes on its own dimension."