Ray's art fights shade of blue
AT 55-years-old, Ray Lee has spent the greater part of his work life wielding a shovel or working out bush; his was a hands-on, heavy-lifting type of income.
That was until it all came unstuck last year.
Overcome with acute tendonitis, he was forced to give up his job; then three months of unemployment catapulted him into the dark depths of major depression.
“It was a horror year,” the Warwick man recalled.
For a bloke who’d grown up on stations around Charleville, spent 12 years in the air force, then worked as a greenkeeper, tractor driver and on drilling rigs, the diagnosis was debilitating.
“It was hard to take. I was told I couldn’t do heavy lifting or physical work because of the tendonitis in my arms,” Mr Lee said.
Gripped by depression and the gut-wrenching feeling the best of life was behind him, he struggled through the days.
“My wife Lynette and I are still paying off the house, yet I couldn’t work. It was tough,” he said.
“In 38 years I’d never been out of a job, and then suddenly everything changed. You never believe it will happen to you.”
Mates suggested early retirement; others offered sympathy, while his wife and two children urged him to find hope.
When he finally found the strength to look, what he discovered was something entirely different.
“I walked into Warwick ArtStudio last November more out of curiosity than anything else,” Mr Lee said.
What happened next is straight from a movie script.
“They lent me a pencil and a book on drawing and I started sketching,” Mr Lee said.
When he took his first “work” to the studio artists for appraisal their response astounded him.
“They asked me if I’d had lessons, but the last time I remembered doing art was 50 years ago as a little fellow at Charleville State School,” he said.
Warwick artist Keiko Brailey was among those amazed by Mr Lee’s efforts.
“Ray didn’t even know he had talent, yet the quality of his work was incredible,” she said.
Spurred on by their encouragement he produced a portfolio of portraits, and found to his surprise art eased his depression.
“It also made me realise there were other things I could do,” Mr Lee said.
Three months after his first drawing he was enrolled in Toowoomba TAFE College to study visual arts and ceramics.
He has also discovered by chance a possible creative gene: his maternal great, great grand-parents were artists.
With depression in check, Mr Lee plans to study photography and explore mediums beyond pencil.
Yet when quizzed about where his art might take him, he was down-to-earth: “I don’t have a dream; I just want a job so I can pay off my house.”