Jai Kealy has suffered a lot of trauma in his life yet his artwork today has become more complex, more congruous, and many believe, more stunning.
Kealy had been an artist of many media until a car accident in 1996 left him with a brain injury, nerve damage in his right hand and a heart condition.
“I couldn’t draw anymore. It was a brain injury so I couldn’t concentrate,” said Kealy. “The majority of stuff I was used to doing I couldn’t do anymore.”
So his wife Val had her father teach Jai to woodturn, a medium that Jai thoroughly enjoyed and could do pain-free.
And then he had another accident. This time he fell and suffered a concussion, resulting in complete amnesia.
“He forgot our wedding, my kids … everything, he didn’t know how to tell time,” said Val.
Although Jai had to relearn everything, his artistic abilities seemed to become more acute. Val and Jai took carving lessons together and Val said his art work became 10 times better. She was told his brain was “stuck in the creative side,” allegedly increasing his artistic capabilities.
“He’s not supposed to be able to concentrate and multi-task yet he can sit there and create a piece that blows people away,” she said.
Today Jai creates native carvings, honouring his Cree and Sioux heritage, as well as West Coast objects like realistic whales, and woodturnings that incorporate elements like soapstone, blown glass and sand-blasted glass. He has received countless awards for his work, including an award for beating a world champion whale carver at the Brant Festival in 2009.
Jai is also known for his extremely thin walled wood turnings. This includes his incredible Eagle Spirit Vase. This detailed vase was created from a 21 inch green birch log. With a tool equipped with a light, Jai sat in the dark shaping the vase. The light shining through the wet piece of wood gave Jai an idea of the thickness of the wood, and went about matching it consistently throughout.
He then burned 27,770 lines creating the flight feathers of an eagle. The vase took about 200 hours to complete.
The vase snagged Jai first place in the advanced carving class at the Mid-Island Carvers in Nanaimo in 2008, among other awards.
Jai said he can’t duplicate this level of concentration doing any other activity, but with artwork it seems to be a different story.
“I get so focused that everything around me disappears,” he said.
Jai’s goal with many of his wood creations, remains to create items that look so realistic people don’t know whether they are real or wood.
He said this happened at a show with one of his carved wooden eagle feathers, complete with carved beads and leather. A conservation officer approached him at the show and told him he was not allowed to sell it.
“I kind of thought, okay we’re just about there, cause we’re fooling the big guys,” he smiled.
Val comes up with many ideas for Jai to carve and often does the painting, adds things like leatherwork, and does other fine detailing.
The couple has a number of combined projects, including their current one, a raven mask. Jai will carve the mask and Val will add hundreds of hand-sculpted leather feathers.
Beyond working with Jai, Val also carves beautiful cottonwood bark houses harvested from dead trees. She runs a gallery in Parksville at the couple’s home, filled with her and Jai’s work as well as work from other local artists.
But Jai works for the healing properties his artwork gives him, he said, a therapy that takes away the pain left behind by the accidents.
“When I’m not doing my work my brain focuses on negative things,” he said. “When I’m actually creating I’m in a different world. It gives me a place to escape.”
The couple’s studio, QB Arts Gallery has moved from Qualicum Beach to Parksville. It is located at 864 Reid Rd., 1 block from Oceanside Middle school, open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Locally Jai’s work is also available at The Gallery @ Qualicum Art Supply on 1st Ave in Qualicum Beach and Smashin’ Glass & Anything Art Co. in Parksville. His work can also be found at many local festivals and art shows.
For more information e-mail email@example.com or call 250-752-9580.