My husband and I sometimes talk about what it means to know someone, to really know someone, and how to get to that deeper level with people. There are a few people in our life who we just can't seem to get past the niceties with, but I am always seeking that deeper, more meaningful connection with people.
When I was approached to paint this piece for Kim and for Kim's family, the intent was to load the painting with such a depth of meaning that only Kim would fully grasp all the nuance, but it would be appreciated by her closest friends and family as well.
Kim had first been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2016. After surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission, only to reappear in 2018. More surgery, more chemotherapy. She was cancer free for 15 months until in July 2020, a scan showed the cancer had spread. Kim passed away peacefully in her home on April 2, 2021, with her loving husband, George, by her side. She was 39 years of age.
Kim is described by her friends as being incredibly loyal, and that loyalty extended to her work environment. Kim worked for Elim Village for many years, and it was Elim that commissioned me to do this painting, to create “something special that would convey our love for her and her family; something that says we know her as a person...her likes and her many dislikes...her quirks, her love language, her uniqueness. A visual gift that speaks of who Kim is today, and in the future - will speak of who and how unique Kim was."
I had already created a number of Story Portraits for Elim Village, and this painting was headed in that same direction - a collection of memories, visually represented. But as the concepts for the piece started to come together, I realized many of the memories were dialogue-based. Furthermore, I'd been stewing on the approach for a while; although the original painting would be gifted to Kim, it would remain with her husband, George, after she passed. Likewise, reproductions of the painting would be gifted to her parents and co-workers, in memory of her. The situation was overwhelmingly sad - a community of people, preparing for the death of a loved one, and all the more tragic due to her youth. The great juxtaposition felt throughout those months, though, was that Kim was anything but a tragic figure in life; she lived with a fullness and vitality that was genuinely unique to her person.
Kim was an absolute jokester; she pulled pranks in the office, used funny voices, advocated for a ping pong table at work, and was just a total smart ass. She was incredibly hard working, spoke her mind, and was efficient, but was also hilarious and quick to laugh. For this special painting, I didn't want to create a piece that, when looked upon, would only conjure up sadness. Grief is inevitable and long-lasting, but I wanted to create a piece that, amidst the grief, would also cause the viewer to smile.
It was this line of thinking that led me the concept of a comic-strip style Story Portrait. This approach was inherently light-hearted and also provided the vehicle to reproduce the dialogue-based memories. I also wanted a central motif to orientate the comic strips around, and chose to paint Kim riding a work trolley, pushed by a co-worker, which was inspired from a photograph submitted that perfectly captured her fun-loving personality.
I was not there when this painting was gifted to Kim, but I heard that it made her smile - all the little details, all the memories within, demonstrating that she was deeply known and loved by her co-workers. A reproduction hangs framed in the main administration at Elim Village, close to where her office was. Card reproductions were also made and remain propped on desks or pinned to bulletin boards in offices of her co-workers.