Aug 21, 2018 10:00AM
By Kayla Sosa
When Kim Gill lost her 18-year-old son Patrick to a fatal car accident in 1999, she felt lost and confused. As any parent would, she was trying to cope with the loss of her first child, while also trying to hold the family together with her then 10-year-old son.
About a year after Patrick’s accident, Gill’s friend took her to an art therapy session with an artist. That experience would change her life.
“What came out of me was very personal, very raw and it was, I think, my grief bubbling over,” Gill said. “It was then I realized, 'I want more of this.'”
The family moved from Adrian to Grand Rapids, where Gill was able to find more artists to be influenced by, and where she gained her momentum as an artist. Gill saw an article in the Grand Rapids Press about a local artist, Loretta Sailors, who did a painting in honor of her daughter who died at 18. Gill saw the similarities and got in touch with her.
"Being creative enriches your life in so many, often unexpected, ways. It brings me joy, and I trust that."
“Loretta really led me on my journey,” Gill expressed. “She was the catalyst to get things going for me, and she’s taught me so much more than art. She knew that creating art was something that could help me, so I’m forever grateful for her that she came into my life.”
Gill grew up in Grand Rapids. She attended Aquinas College where she got a degree in business administration. Over the years, she worked in the banking industry and was a substitute teacher. When her family moved back to GR, her sole focus was raising Christopher, her youngest son.
For many years Gill took classes from Loretta, but she also attended community classes at Kendall College of Art and Design.
“I had no art background,” Gill said. But that wasn’t going to stop her from realizing her talent.
While she did all kinds of painting, she found that she was always “drawn to the face” — portrait work.
“That’s my passion,” Gill divulged.
Her works typically have a social justice orientation, with an emphasis on women and children in developing countries
“Some of my work can be hard; it can be raw, because I might capture their despair," she said. "I also try to capture hope. I think as I wrestle, almost 20 years later, you have that despair, the grief that I did have; I never gave up hope.”
Just like Gill never gave up hope, she never gave up Patrick’s spirit. His passion for the arts still lives through her and her other son, Christopher, who is a photographer.
“He was a very talented man, as his brother is,” Gill said. “He was a writer, he loved to write poetry. He also was a ceramic artist … and he also was a photographer.”
Gill described him as an old soul, a deep thinker.
“I remember him sitting with me one day and saying, ‘Mom, you know, you can’t possibly know joy without knowing sadness, you can’t know hope without knowing despair,’” Gill remembered. “I think about that a lot.”
While Gill started creating art as an outlet for her grief, she has turned it into a passion and a career. She has had a piece in ArtPrize for nine years, in 2016 winning the Paul Collins award for her painting “Still Silence, Still Missing.” That painting was a powerful piece dedicated to the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in 2015 by the Boko Haram.
grand rGill has continued to focus on women and children, especially girls in countries where education is limited or prohibited.
“Whether I’m expressing an emotion of despair, hope, sadness, or joy in my portrait work, what’s most important to me is to capture the strength and dignity of the women and children I paint,” Gill said. “I want the viewer to connect with this. We are all faced with challenges in our life, sometimes horrific, but no matter who we are, where we live, or what we’ve endured, it’s my subconscious message to suggest that we all have the strength within us to ultimately heal and make a difference even when life seems hopeless.”
Gill is also a member of an artist cooperative in Lowell, called Flat River Gallery. The cooperative means that the business is a non-profit and paid for by the artists who fund it together.
For the future, Gill would one day like to do a solo showcase of her own work and to expand her portfolio work for future shows.
“The most significant goal, however, is to inspire others to embrace their own creativity and express it no matter what their age or skill level is,” Gill said. “Being creative enriches your life in so many, often unexpected, ways. It brings me joy, and I trust that.”
Kayla Sosa is a journalism student at Grand Rapids Community College and editor-in-chief of The Collegiate newspaper and website.