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Artist's Memoir Describes How Traumatic Childhood Fueled Creativity

March 28, 2019 1:40 p.m.

GUEST: Paul Ecke, artist, author, "Boy Dreamer: An Artist’s Memoir of Identity, Awakening, and Beating the Odds"

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Southern California artist Paul Eki usually expresses his dreams and deepest feelings through painting. But to tell the full tail of his challenges, struggles and victories through a complicated life, he's chosen to write it all down and that's because he believes he doesn't just have an interesting story to tell, but a message for others to follow their truth and their dreams. Joining me is Paul [inaudible], author of boy dreamer and artists memoir of identity, awakening and beating the odds. Paul, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:33 Hi. Thank you for having me. Now, didn't writing this book come easily for you? Didn't because I, I knew by writing the book I was going to have to face a lot of a lot of things, but I wanted to write it to inspire people because I had a long held desire to understand my personal history. So I I, yeah, I I, it was a little challenging

Speaker 1: 00:58 in the book boy dream. Are you? Tell us about a childhood that must have been confusing and frightening for you. Can you tell us a bit about those early years?

Speaker 2: 01:07 Well, it was, it came as a shock. I was four years old and I, everything seemed perfect in my life and all of a sudden I find myself the next day, my bags being packed and I was put into a foster care so I didn't understand it. And then shortly after that and the next couple of days it became very abusive and I kind of was in a period of shock for a bit. So I quickly went into this dream state to escape it. Why did you have to go into foster care? And my mother had a nervous breakdown. My father was abusive and uh, she had three kids and she just couldn't handle it. And so she needed to, uh, to um, take a break for a while, I believe. Yes.

Speaker 1: 01:53 Now, one of the messages of your book is how much influence adults have on young children. What kind of influence did they have on you?

Speaker 2: 02:02 Well, this, this couple in particular, um, how to, um, a very negative influence on me in the beginning. But, um, I had, I had such a loving mother and you know, she would come visit every week. And so I just held on to that, that to her and for some reason I blocked these, these people out a margin. Ken, I blocked him out and I just kept, you know, with all the different things that happened in my childhood, in this foster care, I just dropped. And I, um, believe that, you know, that I could, um, I could get through it somehow. And I did. I just became very, very creative and add a lot of ideas, you know, I, um, the how I would do it and, and how my life would look. You think in, you know, in years after

Speaker 1: 02:52 you say you knew you were gay when you were about four years old and in the process of growing and

Speaker 2: 03:00 this became more apparent in your life, but it was also a real problem for you. Well, of course it was in the sixties, seventies, when, you know, being gay was considered a mental illness and it was illegal and I was getting into the teaching system. And so I had to hide it. I learned to, to lie a lot. And um, cause you know, this is what, um, gay men and women had to do then to survive in, in our society. What did it take for you to feel comfortable with your sexuality? Oh God, that's a hard one. Um, it took a long time. La, a lot of, uh, I had a lot of issues and um, I, you know, I went through a version therapy for a while trying to, to escape it, which was such a negative thing. But I think through getting a good education and having a very supportive family and uh, uh, uh, and friendships and having a higher faith, um, higher power I believed in, I think that Kinda got me through it.

Speaker 2: 03:55 And just maturing, basically getting older and, you know, and as, as the years went on, it became more, um, accepted the trauma you experienced as a child. You now channel or you have channeled into your art. Can you tell us that process? Can you try to explain that process for us? Through my imagination, I've been able to, uh, create many different scenarios. So I, I create a lot of abstract work, um, with a lot of color and, and bold movement. And also I do figurative work. So it, um, it, it just gave me the, you know, the ability to, to develop my imagination and to be creative. You know, we often think of creative people as tortured artists compelled to work out their demons through art. Do you consider yourself a tortured? I don't. I don't, I've had a lot of adversities, but my art has always been something so positive and, and I'm kind of known as a colorist, so I use a lot of bright colors and a lot of textures.

Speaker 2: 05:03 I'm very, uh, my work is very sculptural. Um, that was my background actually in, in school and when I taught art. But no, I don't, I mean, I can, I may have had done some dark series, you know, I've done many, many series over the 40 years and some of them are dark. They all have meaning and they, they're mostly repetitive patterns, which is again about my affirmations of my thought process. So no, it's a positive thing. And then there's your cancer diagnosis. I'm wondering, how has that changed you and your art? Well, it gave me, you know, I, I, at first I was devastated, but, uh, it, I, I turned those thoughts into it. It'd be positive. I had to, um, you know, I, it was something that, um, I knew if, because of my early upbringing that I had that this creative thought process that I could start doing affirmations and I could start to believe that I could beat this.

Speaker 2: 06:02 And, um, so I, you know, I did many, many affirmations and I always believed that, uh, you know, you're a words become, are your thoughts, become words, your words become your reality. So I always had that, um, that ingrained in me. And, um, I felt that, um, you know, he felt that I had, there was a lot of hope and I had a great, a great team of doctors that thought outside of the box. And so I, you know, I, after a few years I thought, you know, I'm not going to, I'm going to turn this into something good and to look at that I have each day to live for and not to give so much time to what? Um, and to give the thought to the diagnosis and, and, um, and to believe that, that in the diagnosis, but not to believe in the, um, the reality of what it could, what it was going to happen.

Speaker 1: 06:54 Now there's a deal, I understand to turn your book boy dreamer into a screenplay. Uh, how do you feel about that?

Speaker 2: 07:01 There is well loved it and I was shocked. The book is doing really well. And I was approached, um, early on, which I never thought a, what's going to happen? And it did. So I had to think about it for a while thing and this is how can this be? And you know, I met the young a screenwriter and, um, you know, I really liked him and he was very creative and I said, well, yeah, let's, let's do it. Why not? But you know, um, you know, things change, you know, a book is always much better than the, the movie and I think, I believe anyway. And, um, so he's, he's riding it and I've been reading it and he's pretty much sticking to the, to the script, but I'm so I'm very excited about it.

Speaker 1: 07:42 It's Jacob, Kyle Young, who's, yes, it is. How do you think Paul people who like you have gone through trauma and dysfunction in their lives can get to a healthy place?

Speaker 2: 07:52 Well, you've got to keep you your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words, like I said before, in your words become your reality. So you have to believe that. Um, and you know, the, uh, you know, believe the diagnosis, but don't believe on what, what they, uh, it actually could be, you know, just, uh, um, try to stay positive. And I think you have, the power of the mind is so, so important. And, um, I, you know, I tell people like, you know, I tried to inspire people with, with those, with those words.

Speaker 1: 08:22 I've been speaking with artists, Paul [inaudible], author of Void Dreamer, an artist's memoir of identity, awakening and beating the odds. Paul, thank you so much. Thank you so much and I appreciate it. There will be a 40 year retrospective of [inaudible] work this Saturday, March 30th at the contemporary fine arts gallery in La Hoya, and Paul [inaudible] will be there from six to 9:00 PM signing copies of his memoir boy dreamer.

Speaker 3: 08:53 Okay.