Riaan Van Der Wart is used to seeing his patients through a medical lens, but every so often, something catches his eye that makes the Prince Rupert doctor dive a little deeper in his understanding of the human body and soul.
Here in Rupert that’s usually a sense of community.
Countless times Rupertites will tell you that it’s the sense of belonging, or of being a part of a social network that is just so inviting here in the city that makes them want to return or make Rupert their home.
So it was for Riaan and his patient Doreen Ridsdale.
“We bonded quite quickly,” said Riaan last week.
“We started chatting and we just had a friendly relationship … We’ve gone out for coffee at least once a month to keep up with each other.”
Doreen wears a lot of hats at the Anglican Church. She’s a member of the congregation, organ player, fundraiser and much more. She’s done quite a bit of work fundraising to help the Anglican Church get its leaky roof fixed, but she needs help.
“[The fund’s] doing well, but they’re not where they need to be to get it fixed, so they’re getting quite desperate,” said Riaan.
Through listening to her stories about relatives in World War II and gaining a social connection with Doreen, Riaan wanted to help.
“She’s very big on keeping a safe place for the community, so that was my inspiration – to see somebody you don’t normally. Because you see a lot of patients, [you have] a lot of interactions. I think the small bit of giving a bit of time to get to know people better – it’s just a wonderful thing to see how rich a person’s life can be if you just open yourself up and listen a bit,” Riaan said.
The Rupert doctor, who came to the North Coast in 2007 from London, England, has quite an artistic background.
Interested in painting ever since he was younger, Riaan has dabbled in and even participated in New York art exhibitions, where he’s sold his work in the past.
On Saturday, Dec. 19, Riaan will be auctioning off some of his works with 100 per cent of the proceeds going towards the Anglican Church’s roof fund at the Raise the Church Roof Art Exhibition & Auction.
“I started [painting] more aggressively at the beginning of last year … and I’ve rented a studio at the Museum [of Northern B.C.], so through the year I’ve been working on paintings,” said Riaan.
“I actually did a painting of the church itself just to get some marketing out – that’s one of the pieces, and the pieces will probably have a reserve on them just to cover the costs and if there’s an interest in any of the pieces (while not putting them all up for auction), we’ll just tag it and put it up for auction.”
Riaan’s painting of the church can be found on the promotional card advertising the exhibition and auction, but the doctor especially likes to paint abstract pieces more than anything.
“This is probably the most realistic painting I’ve done … a lot of paintings are inspired by patients that I see … when I was younger I always thought you had to go to France for inspiration or you’ve got to see the beautiful things for inspiration and I almost neglected looking right around me and opening my eyes and I must say Prince Rupert has inspired me in a way that I’ve never been inspired before to do these sort of things,” said Riaan, who has published children’s book illustrations in the past as well.
Riaan’s abstract works are inspired locally and he specifically likes the style due to the interactive element it demands from its viewers.
“If you paint abstract, you allow the viewer to create a picture for themselves, so that’s why abstract art, if you get it right, you can engage a person so that they complete the picture in their own minds. They see what they see without you guiding them. In that way it allows them to look at the painting longer … If it’s successful, I’m asking your opinion as well instead of offering what I did or what I see and giving you a finished product,” he said.
Riaan’s experience attending medical conferences has increasingly moved to embracing humanity as part of human science. Mentioning that dancing is often a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, Riaan said that feeling better may not always come in a pill bottle.
“It’s so important to do something that makes you feel great because we prescribe medication and hope that it makes you feel great, but if I say ‘Well, maybe you should go dance three times a week’, that is a legitimate prescription because it will make you feel better,” he said.
“Medicine should be an art and we’ve lost the art of it unfortunately. We do a lot of diagnostic work, but we don’t always remember that it’s an art to see each individual differently.”
The art exhibition begins at noon on Dec. 19 at the Ceremonial Room in the downstairs area of the Museum of Northern B.C. The actual auction and Riaan and Doreen’s presentation of the painter’s inspiration behind some of his pieces will begin at 7 p.m. The auction will last until 9 p.m.