Last year, Renfrew artist and arts entrepreneur Patrick John Mills spent 52 days in a coma, 62 days on life support, and 99 days in hospital. He lost 86 pounds. He was not expected to live.
From October 7 to November 4, Mills is celebrating his extraordinary recovery with a solo exhibition titled Love On Fire. His exuberant paintings are his way of communicating the love, feelings, gratitude and spiritual energy relating to his incredible journey back to life.
For more than a year he was not able to paint in his artist studio space at the dauntingly ambitious Art Factory Warehouse. At a former derelict factory site located at 11 Bridge Street in Renfrew, Mills is creating an art venue that is propelling that town into the area’s cultural orbit. After a year of forced inactivity, the renovation is proceeding with the same energy and passion that Mills brings to his art.
His recovery is remarkable. Suffering from cancer and unable to breathe, complicated by persistent pneumonia, on his fourth day in the ICU doctors told the love of his life, Tanja Kisslinger, that he had a ten percent chance of survival. In Patrick’s words, “My Love Tanja Kisslinger pleaded for my life. Relentless — my Love Tanja was at my bedside 12 to 14 hours a day, every day for 99 days. I thank God for putting her in my life. She is the reason that I am alive today — it was her relentless effort to advocate for my life and healing. Love Always Wins.” His Love is now also his wife.
His new body of work, titled Life Is Beautiful, is as incredible as his recovery. When he woke after 52 days in a medically induced coma, he was unable to hold a pencil. “My muscles, my whole body felt like a boiled spaghetti noodle that lay in a bed. I could not sit up, stand or walk. I could not talk or breathe on my own. The journey that was ahead of me was beyond anything I could comprehend… All my life force, emotions, energy were directed towards staying alive and healing. All my passion for life and love has exploded onto my canvas. I am so happy to be alive, and I feel that I am doing my most positive and significant work.”
In addition to their undying (indeed!) gratitude to all the dedicated and compassionate medical personnel at the Queensway Carleton and Renfrew Victoria Hospitals who joined them in their refusal to admit defeat, Tanja wants to take this opportunity to “mention the significant presence that comforted me throughout some of the loneliest parts of this journey… and that was your (Patrick’s) very own community. The community that loves you, Bubba, and the soul that you are. Some know you from the past, some know you from the Art Factory, and some simply know you from social media. But there were so many… hundreds of people prayed for you, and for us. They read every one of my Facebook posts, they messaged me, and they constantly sent such love and encouragement. Honestly, at some points, this alone helped me to stand up and face one more of those 99 days. Even during the darkest parts of your ICU journey, my belief and hope were magnified and given back to me by this incredible and loving community of prayer. For each and every one of them, I am eternally grateful.”
The new works are powerful. Patrick has always been celebrated for the emotional intensity he is able to convey with his dynamic abstracts. He paints from his soul. In his poetic style he describes the intense emotional journey he embarks on as he completes a new work:
“In the final stages of working on this painting, I feel like an egg. I feel like an egg being dropped from an airplane. Skydiving or suicide. I am completely alive. My heart is beating so passionately. I can feel the red blood pumping like a volcano.
“I savour the moment. I am not in a rush, everything slows down, pay attention. I actively participate in this conversation with my canvas. I feel perfectly content. My heart grows. My blood warms.
“I feel everything. I cut myself open. My soul is unzipped and my flesh is left on the ground like a snake skin. I keep bleeding and I keep believing.
“I empty over fifty large tubes of paint in under two hours. It is a massive party. I have all the voices singing inside my head. It is a house party where all my friends celebrate creativity and we all drink, dance, and share love. There are no rules, only pure freedom…
“I fall into the sky. My soul is open to everything. Thousands of butterflies are released. I am naked. I am completely vulnerable. All my senses are sensitive. My nose smells the perfumed air like a lover that has blanketed herself over me. I am distilled, cocooned, nested in this perfect intimate moment.
“I keep falling... the egg is falling and falling. This moment continues. And I hold this bliss. Then I have reached the summit of the mountain. I have reached the top of K2 in my creative mind. And then suddenly the egg hits the ground... And everything inside me has exploded on the blank canvas.”
Patrick John Mills, Tanja Kisslinger, and innumerable friends and fans are delighted to invite you to celebrate Patrick’s personal and artistic rebirth at his solo exhibition Love On Fire. Patrick writes, “After a year of not being able to paint in my studio. I am painting the with such colossal, epic, abundant passion, love and gratitude for life and love. I have been painting for over thirty years. My work is collected all over the world. I have won international awards. It is my pleasure to share my new series of paintings with you.”
Opening night is October 7 from noon to 5pm at the Art Factory’s Warehouse Gallery at 11 Bridge Street in Renfrew. Regular exhibition hours are Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm until November 4. Admission to the exhibition is always free.
Originally published in "the Humm", October 2023 issue.