Kevin Whitaker, peintre / painter, Galerie Gillygooly Gallery

Kevin Whitaker, peintre / painter

Vernissage 11:30 à 14:00 / 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., samedi le 25 aout  / Saturday August 25

96 chemin Hatley Centre, Canton de Hatley

Le Dernier Souper (devinez qui vient souper) / The Last Supper (guess who’s coming to supper)

Kevin Whitaker: Judge and Painter with LBD Parkinson’s 

By Marie Moliner

Not so many years ago, a movie came out entitled: “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Since my spouse’s name is Kevin, it was a bit of a family joke until things started to go terribly wrong. At first it was nothing obvious. His excellent driving record was slightly marred while at the cottage in Hatley Acres, when he reversed the car into a tree and dented the bumper. Later, he drove into an underground parking lot in Kingston, where we were visiting our daughter, and cracked the Thule. He was forever forgetting his keys or misplacing things and blaming the dog, the housekeeper, and sometimes me. When he asked his family doctor whether there might be something wrong, the doctor laughed and said, “No, you’re just aging. You have CRAFT disease (Can’t Remember a Frickin Thing.)” That was 6 years ago when he was 55. He had just been appointed to the Superior Court of Ontario. General speculation, given his wide renown as fair-minded and brilliant, was that the appointment was a stepping stone to higher courts. So, when he asked to take a leave of absence from work because he was finding it hard to concentrate in court and to hear the litigants, we both knew there was something else going on.

The next four years were a jumble of doctors’ appointments, where each medical specialist would pass him on to the next one. His heart and lungs were in great shape. His fitness was excellent. His hearing was normal especially given that he had spent time as a Fort Henry guard firing cannons, an environment where hearing loss would not be unforeseeable. He spent a few summers at the cottage with symptoms that could best be described as premature aging. Our daughter would gently call him “the Codge.” Our son knew his father was fragile. He walked stiffly. His facial expressions were increasingly difficult to discern. He was generally listless and unhappy. This was behaviour that was completely out of character for a man who had excelled as a partner, parent, lawyer, public servant, and, ultimately, judge. 

As luck would have it, my brother, a physician, was the first to suggest it might be Parkinson’s Disease. This was later confirmed by a Toronto neurologist. When this first diagnosis came in, we were relieved. At least we knew that there was a name for this disease and could get on with treatment. 

When the second diagnosis came in, of Parkinson’s with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), we were dumbstruck. While the disease is not hereditary, we were well aware that his grandfather had early onset dementia and his aunt had died with a diagnosis of LBD.

LBD Parkinson’s is an insidious disease. It eats your brain. It destroys your mobility and generally kills you within 8 years of diagnosis. Needless to say, our two children grew up very quickly as we all realized that time with their father was precious. There is no cure, and the only medication is dopamine for the motor symptoms, and a cocktail of antidepressants, memory medication, and antipsychotics (for the hallucinations). Every now and then Kevin pops an aspirin when he feels the need for a little ‘something extra.’

The most remarkable part of the story is what has transpired since the diagnosis. Kevin is a beautiful man. By beauty I am talking inside and out. Let’s just say that no one would ever kick him out of bed for eating crackers. Needless to say, when I met him in law school in 1981, I was attracted to him. And then I fell in love with his brain. That brain was able to process faster than the average computer and certainly faster than most human beings. And even now that the disease is manifesting itself much more cognitively, he sees things and understands things more quickly than most. Given his strength of character, it is not surprising that he would explore a second career as an artist, even in the face of such adversity. Kevin has dabbled in drawing and painting since his father was on his deathbed twenty years ago. At that time, painting became an outlet to express complex emotions toward his father who survived, only dying last October on our wedding anniversary. 

This past February, we were visiting friends in Santa Barbara, California to get the requisite dose of vitamin D and to enjoy some warmth before returning to the glories of Canadian winter. We were walking by a large canvas in a Santa Barbara art store. Kevin turned to me and said, “Someday, I would love to be able to paint a canvas that size.” My inside voice noted that we were in California — a long way from home — and for a nanosecond a 6’ x 8’ canvas seemed to be too big a dream. However, the next day was Valentine’s Day. With the help of Sam, a lovely painter who worked at the art store (and who also paints large canvases), a 6 foot canvas for Kevin was delivered. He began to paint in the backyard. He went on to paint three large scale canvases in one week. They were bright, bold and filled with energy. Later he called them: Dictator, Beach Boy, and Pink Lady. 

Those three paintings were the beginning of what has now become his raison d’etre. Eight weeks later he opened his first show on Friday, the 13th of April, at a local Toronto gallery. He titled it “Chasing monsters” to capture the reality of his daily hallucinations. Hundreds of people came out over three weekends to see his work. He received coverage in several newspapers, had an amazing interview on CBC’s Metro Morning and emerged into his next career as a painter. All proceeds were donated to LBD Parkinson’s Research.

That show crystallized a pent-up creative energy that continues to fuel his need to paint large canvases, despite an increasing number of Parkinson’s freezes and erratic memory. His next show will take place in the Eastern Townships in Quebec on the last weekend in August. Perhaps what is most remarkable is the creative process behind this show’s theme. The show’s theme is entitled “The Last Supper.” The paintings depict figures of note, whom Kevin has selected as having earned the right — based on their achievements — to be invited to the “Last Supper.” As of this writing, all of the characters, other than Jesus, are women. They include Frida Kahlo; Mary, Mother of God; Nadezhda Krupskaya; Emma Goldman and Rosa Parks. While the painter’s style has changed over time (and you will be able to see some of his earlier works) there is no doubt that the man who was once a judge is now an artist 

We hope you will be able to join us August 25 and 26th or by appointment the following week (mariemoliner88@gmail.com), at the Gillygooly Gallery, 96 Hatley Centre Rd. North Hatley, Eastern Townships, Quebec.

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John LeBaron
John LeBaron
2 years ago

The vernissage was extraordinary, partly because of Kevin’s powerful and prolific work but equally due to the opportunity to chat with this extraordinary man at some length.

Thank you Kevin, Marie, Ouida and Margo for orchestrating this exhibit. It was a privilege to participate. Marie, your synopsis was very touching. I shared it with a close friend facing the same illness in her spouse. She was much comforted by it.