Fighting homelessness with creativity

Local artist’s encaustic paintings on display in the Exchange

Michael Turner might be homeless, but that’s not stopping him from making a name for himself in Winnipeg’s visual arts community.

“It was more of an escape when I was a child. I had a really rough, abusive childhood, so art was a place where I could escape and find peace,” Turner says.

“Now for me it’s sort of like therapy. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar and it’s a great outlet for my inability to cope sometimes.”

Turner’s medium of choice is beeswax, which he uses to create a variety of different encaustic paintings.

“You’re using hot irons to manipulate the wax and you’re basically painting with beeswax,” he says. “It’s actually one of the oldest art forms known to man. The Egyptians used to use beeswax to paint tombs for the mummies and it’s kind of been revised over the last 30 years.”

Turner was introduced to encaustic painting when he was attending an art group organized by Oak Table Community Ministry.

“It was quite accidental, one of the ladies brought in her iron, showed me how to use it and everything just sort of took off from there. Now she jokes that she’s created a monster because I’m just fanatical about it,” he says.

A number of his colourful, abstract images are housed at Tara Davis Studio Boutique, a store and gallery in the Exchange.

Owner Tara Davis was introduced to Turner through her high school art teacher, who also has ties with the Oak Table art group.

“She doesn’t really take artwork from artists off the street, but when I told her my story she graciously took me in and took a chance on me,” he says.

Davis knew she had to make some space for Turner’s work, especially since the two of them have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The pair also has ties with Artbeat Studio, which is where Turner is creating most of his art right now. The studio’s mandate is to help people with mental illness find the road to recovery through artistic expression.

“Artbeat Studio totally changed my life ten years ago when I went through the program and there’s no way I’d have my shop if it wasn’t for them. They always talk about giving back and I guess this is my way of doing that,” Davis says.

For the rest of the month Turner’s work will be there for anyone to look at or purchase.

Most of the money goes straight back to Turner, who’s been living off-and-on at Siloam Mission over the last two years. He hopes to save up enough cash to move out and get his own apartment.

“You need something positive you can do every day that you’re passionate about and for me that just happens to be art,” he says.
“The first few days of Artbeat were rough like any new venture, but now every morning I’m ready to go and I’m ready to start creating.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 18, 2015)

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