Facing reality and turning it into art 

What: About Face art exhibit

Who: Glen McMillan and Toya Harris

Where: Millennium Place

When: Feb. 11-28

Opening: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 6 to 9 p.m.

They say when something bad happens to you, something good will happen too. True survivor, Glen McMillan, can vouch for that.

The gay artist said he has always felt like "a bit of a misfit" with his sexuality and following a history of childhood abuse has had a life that many of us could not imagine. But it was surviving a shocking, near-fatal attack on the streets of Calgary three years ago that has brought him newfound hope and creativity for the first time.

"I have finally found my passion," the mohawked artist smiled. "I’ve found beauty in what most people find ugly and turned it into art."

Following his assault, McMillan joined a pottery class at the Gathering Place for recovery therapy.

"Brain injury is like a mushroom trip that doesn’t go away," he offered.

The opportunity helped him tap into a long lost childhood knack for modelling clay.

"It all came back to me. I had so much fun as a kid carving apple faces and playing with Femo, I’m loving discovering it all over again," McMillan said.

This time around though, McMillan’s work is much more unique. His collection includes bug-eyed faces full of messy teeth around a bed of pansies and 10 inch abstract Buddha statues.

"I like taking the crazy, the bad and the bizarre and having some fun with it. What’s normally looked upon as depressing, I want to make attractive," he said.

For a guy who has been to hell in back, his creativity is inspiring. It’s a compliment he thanks me profusely for.

"For years I’ve been like, ‘why me?’ with everything that’s happened. From the beatings, to the resulting brain injuries and the unpredictable depression, I’ve been a mess and on some days still am," he admitted. "But my work and a very good friend, Bruce Matthews, have brought me a new life."

That new life involves a lot of acceptance and positive thinking and a desire to teach pottery to the elderly and children.

"It’s really just become apparent to me that if the bad things had never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I’m finally having some fun and want to pass it on," he said.

You can support McMillan and celebrate his future by visiting his first public exhibit, titled About Face . He’s sharing the space with friend Toya Harris, an Aboriginal artist from Mount Currie, who gives a mystical dream time quality to her modern paintings. Come face to face with the artists at their launch party Tuesday, Feb. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Millennium Place. DJ Martin Sikes will be spinning.

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