Presentation Give by Merrijoy Kelner on the Life of Michell Kelner
Mitchell Kelner’s art is currently on display at the Senior College Centre. The catalogue of his work is here.
Merrijoy Kelner is donating the monies from sales of her son’s paintings to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Please “purchase” the painting you are interested in by making a donation to the Heart & Stroke Foundation in Mitchell Kelner’s name. The Heart & Stroke donation page for Mitchell Kelner is http://support.heartandstroke.ca/site/TR/F16MOF/F16MOF?px=1386488&pg=personal&fr_id=3437. You will receive a tax receipt for your donation.
What follows next is Prof. Emerita Merrijoy Kelner’s speech for the opening of his art show.
November 30th Speech to Senior College
Welcome—I am very moved by your presence here and by your interest in my son Mitchell’s work. It is truly heartwarming.
I want to express my appreciation to Peter Russell and to Vennese Croasdaile for organizing and staging this show of Mitchell’s art. They have done a fine job of setting up and advertising the event today and I salute them for their initiative and efforts.
The canvasses that are hanging here today were painted by Mitchell over an 8 year period when he lived permanently in China and they reflect his views of everyday life there.
This is actually the second showing of Mitchell’s paintings. This summer we staged a two day event up in Creemore, where we have a summer house. In the two days, we sold 24 of the paintings and gave the proceeds (nearly $8000.00) to the Heart and Stroke foundation. I chose to donate the proceedings to them because Mitchell died of a massive heart attack. In case anyone chooses to purchase one of these remaining paintings, the money will also go the Heart and Stroke Foundation and they will receive a tax receipt for it.
I want to tell you a little bit about my son. Mitchell was born in Toronto on July 22nd, 1950. As he grew, we discerned a lively intellect and a pleasing personality. He distinguished himself as a student and developed a small but select group of friends. We expected a brilliant future for him.
When he reached his early twenties, however, it became apparent that he was experiencing difficulties. After he graduated from university, he had real trouble finding his way. He tried a variety of things, from starting a graduate program in English, to training as a real-estate agent, to becoming a weaver. In each case, he gave up after a while and became increasingly disturbed.
As time went on, he was subject to anxiety, depression and panic attacks. He was hospitalized several times and then released to the care of a variety of psychiatrists, but each time he relapsed into despondency. Finally, when he was in his forties, he jumped off the Bloor viaduct in an attempt to escape his demons.
He survived that experience, but suffered serious damage to his left leg and spent many months recovering.
While he was in the rehab hospital, he met a psychiatrist with whom he was able to establish a profound connection. Under his care, Mitchell finally began to make progress and to contemplate his future in a positive vein.
It was at this time that he took up drawing seriously, and he continued to hone his talents to the point where he created some remarkable portraits.
At the same time, he pursued a longstanding interest in Chinese art, literature and philosophy, and eventually undertook a study of the Chinese language. He already spoke fluent French and Spanish, and learning Mandarin seemed to come easily to him.
He worked hard at it nevertheless, spending many hours every day mastering this difficult language. As he continued to improve his ability to read and to speak, he began to envisage moving to China and making a new life for himself there. He had recently inherited some money from his late father’s estate, and thus had sufficient means to sustain himself there if he lived carefully.
In the fall of 2006, he announced to us that he intended to move to China, with no expectations about what he would find there, or how it would turn out. It was clear that he was in earnest, so I contained my fears and gave him my encouragement.
I knew that I would miss him terribly; we had always been close, and facing his emotional problems together had brought us even closer. Yet I felt that he might have a real chance of happiness in this new life, and that made it all worthwhile.
So one wintry night in January of 2007, our whole family escorted him to the airport where he set off for a country where he had no connections and knew no one.
He first chose to settle in Kunming, a city of around 6 million in the southwest of China, far from the bustling centres of Bejing or Shanghai. He found a place to live and enrolled in an art school, made friends with some Chinese people, and set up his own oil painting studio.
It is interesting to know that he was able to continue living in China because he was a student, and that status provided legitimacy for him, even though he had to renew it every 6 months.
Almost from the beginning, I received enthusiastic emails about his life there. When I visited him, a couple of years later, I found that he was living in an attractive apartment with a young Chinese friend who helped him with domestic chores and intervened, when necessary with the local authorities.
He was continuing with his studies at the art school and working hard to improve his skills.
When we went out for a stroll, we usually met Chinese friends with whom he seemed completely at ease. They laughed together, tapped one another on the shoulder and exchanged the latest news, all in Chinese. It was clear to me that he had recreated himself and made a fresh start with people who had never known him when he was depressed and despairing.
After a few years, he decided that Kunming, once known as “The City of Eternal Spring”, had become too industrialized and polluted and he moved even further west, to a picturesque and charming small city named Dali.
I visited him there too and it gave me great pleasure to see how he had flourished. He had rented a beautiful house with a courtyard that he used as a studio. He had established a solid career as an artist and had many friends, some of whom were also artists and worked together with him. It seemed to me that his courage and diligence had paid off and brought him astonishing returns.
Just before his 65th birthday in July 2015, he wrote to tell me that he had found a soulmate who was moving in with him and with whom he was planning to share his life. Sadly, on a trip together to Shanghai, Mitchell climbed up six flights of stairs in the broiling heat and died immediately of a heart attack. They had very little time together, but I am happy that he found someone to love and be loved by, at the end of his life.
Mitchell’s paintings reflect the respect he felt for the Chinese people and their culture. He struggled to record the world around him as honestly as he could and I think the paintings reflect his genuine interest and regard for the life he adopted.
He wrote to me that he realized that oil painting was not fashionable at the present time and he felt that few people really appreciated what he was doing. “Yet I persist” he said, “because there is nothing else. We are surrounded by so much that is false and mediocre at best”.
In one of his last emails to me he said: “My life is often lonely and insecure, but filled with content that is substantial and real”. Mitchell’s art gave him purpose, and he never gave up the struggle to respectfully and authentically reflect what he saw around him.
I hope that these paintings will convey the depth of his determination and his genuine appreciation for the new life he found in China.