Contributed photo Former Elgin Park Secondary grad Vicki Lynn Rae with her painting Teeth-Shattering Scream, currently featured in the exhibition Women and Anger at the Koehnline Museum of Art at Oakton Community College, Chicago.

Painting a healing journey of creativity

South Surrey-raised artist Vicki Lynn Rae’s work featured in Chicago art show

The title of the acrylic painting is Teeth-Shattering Scream.

It’s a self-portrait of artist Vicki Lynn Rae, her face distorted in a cry of anger, anguish and pain. And she still remembers clearly her feelings when she painted it 10 years ago.

“(It’s) a self study in the actual moment of having a massive emotional release of anger,” she told Peace Arch News this week.

“It took tremendous courage, energy and focus to stay with the feeling, honour it and step back and observe myself to paint it. No thinking could be involved – it is pure energy and intuition.”

The painting is winning the 2000 Elgin Park Secondary grad well-earned international attention as part of a juried exhibition in Chicago, Women and Anger: Resistance, Power and Inspiration, which opened Sept. 28 and runs until Oct. 20 at Oakton Community College’s Koehnline Museum of Art.

Rae attended the opening (“it was very well attended and a powerful collection of works by over 80 female artists,” she said) and found her painting had been chosen to illustrate a Chicago Tribune article about the show.

As the college’s website describes the theme, Women and Anger “examines how well-placed anger can often be an impetus for healing, transformation and action.”

That’s something that Rae – who grew up in South Surrey (she started at Chantrell Creek Elementary in Grade 5) and now lives in New Westminster – understands well.

The painting was the first in what she calls her ‘Recovery Series’ – self-portraits documenting pivotal stages of a struggle against addictive behaviours that, she admits, had brought her to the brink of ending her life in 2006.

Rae, whose online bio acknowledges her Native Canadian and South African roots, described to PAN growing up in an “attentive and supportive” environment in which both her parents and early teachers encouraged her to express herself through a passion for art that manifested itself from the moment she could hold a pencil.

But Rae had challenges that took an emotional toll, she said.

She was born with a “visible and painful” vascular malformation on her right arm and chest (she is left-handed), and that, she said, contributed to her perceptions of herself being skewed in her formative years.

“I was terribly shy and suffered from crippling anxiety,” she noted. “With little understanding of what I was going through and no other suitable treatment on offer at the time, I found reprieve in alcohol, anorexia and self-harm.”

That “period of darkness,” she said, spanned the years from ages 14 to 24, even though she continued to paint and draw all the while.

“It was my lifeline, a visual diary, a meditation and communication with something larger than myself which I wasn’t even aware of,” she said. “All I knew was I was compelled to create.”

After working following graduation from high school, she travelled to Florence, Italy for a six-month program in fine arts and Italian language. Following another spell of working at various jobs and moving around the Lower Mainland, Rae was accepted into the IDEA program at Capilano University in 2004.

“But my addiction was all-but-consuming me by then,” she said.

She hit “rock bottom” two years later – only to find a turning point in the midst of her despair as she looked at her paintings, filling the walls and closets of her dilapidated East Vancouver apartment.

“It was my art that called to me that day, and for my art I chose to go on – in an instant I set everything else aside and dedicated my life to bringing something beautiful into this world through art.”

Rae realized then that her main wish was to, through art, share a story of recovery to give inspiration and hope to others.

“My addiction was miraculously lifted that day in September in 2006, and through vigilance and perseverance I have remained sober to this day,” she said.

The healing journey began in intuitive canavases that reflected her emotional state in-the-moment, Rae said.

A telling companion piece to Teeth Shattering Scream is The Night Everything Went Away, she said.

“It shows the next layer in the healing process: a sadness, a deep surrender and peace.”

Over the last decade Rae has built steadily on her progress. The Recovery Series has given way to the Safari Series – celebrating African wildlife – and the Canada Wild Series, which has evolved to include Lower Mainland landscapes. She has participated in numerous community art exhibitions and has learned to step out of the comfort zone of her studio in live painting demos of her creative process.

“Painting and anything creative – this is the language I speak and understand, this is how I process my life, the world, experiences and events,” Rae said.

“For me, making art is – akin to breathing – it is not an option, it is who I am.”

And Rae – who’s also set to participate in a group show of landscapes, You Are Here, at the North Vancouver District Library Gallery (Oct. 25 to Dec. 11) – describes the Chicago show as a first step in a new phase in her career.

“(This) juried exhibit is my first foray into the international art scene and I see it as an exciting beginning of what’s to come,” she said.

For more information about Rae and her art , visit vickirae.com