Ruben Galdames took up sculpting a few years ago while he was undergoing treatment for cancer. At the time he was given a 20 per cent chance to live, and the busts he built in response to his situation depict anguished faces and silent screams.
“They all were representing what I was feeling, what I was dealing with,” the Nanaimo artist said of his work, adding, “I was very conscious about the hell I was going through.”
One piece from that period shows a broken face being rebuilt with wires.
“That’s how I felt after chemo and after they destroyed me completely,” Galdames said. “I didn’t have anything. I was completely flat dead. So I was fractured, I was taken into pieces and than I had to kind of re-glue myself.”
Galdames said his art helped him keep it together through his illness by providing an outlet for his emotions.
As a beginner with clay, Galdames sought technical instruction at VIU, auditing ceramics classes and then going into directed studies. He said he likes the immediacy of sculpting.
“It’s very forgivable. You can go back and forth and I like the instant response of it,” he said. “I cannot paint. You paint and you have to wait two days to dry… I want it now.”
Galdames said he particularly enjoyed presenting his work to the class for group critique. He said his work often left everyone in tears, which he saw as an indication that he was doing good work.
“A good friend of mine said, ‘You have done 10 years of therapy, cleansing, in one semester,” he said.
Living in constant pain led to Galdames losing his fear of death, a realization embodied in Death, one of his pieces that made the biggest impact on his classmates.
“Death for me was absolutely delicious. It was friendly, it was quiet … no vomiting no pain no nothing,” he said. “I was like, ‘God, you’re gorgeous, you are delightful, I want to go with you.’”
One of his classmates was so moved that she showed a photo the sculpture to her mother, also diagnosed with fatal cancer.
“I said, ‘This is it. I can break this piece … it did what it was supposed to do: Just keep that lady calm with death and come to terms with death,” he said.
Galdames, who is now cancer-free, will be showing some of his latest work as well as older pieces at Gallery Merrick from Nov. 9 to 11. His sculptures will be paired with paintings by artist Mary Lottridge. Galdames said his latest work has taken a more peaceful tone.
“You go though denial, acceptance and the peace that comes after that,” he said. “Now my pieces are very peaceful, very calm, they’re not angry… It changed, and you can see it from the first ones I did to what I’m doing now.”
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Ruben Galdames and Mary Lottridge show at Gallery Merrick, 13B Commercial St., on Friday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.