Choosing to unearth ‘God’s gift’

Artist Gary Fortier, right, with Dorraine Thereon Green, owner of Artist Tree Tea House. Fortier, a West End artist, will be part of an art exhibit at Artist Tree that will put the focus on the West End.

Artist Gary Fortier, right, with Dorraine Thereon Green, owner of Artist Tree Tea House. Fortier, a West End artist, will be part of an art exhibit at Artist Tree that will put the focus on the West End.

Bristol artist Gary Fortier has been to a dark place.
And he admits he sunk pretty deep into that particular mire.
But now he’s seen the light, as it were. And after an earlier period of youthful promise that went awry, Fortier is getting his chance to shine again thanks to Artist Tree Tea House on School Street.
Fortier beams when you ask him about his high school art days. An oil painting of his was honored as the best piece by any high school student from across the land in that particular year. That oil painting, which received a gold medal, earned him a four year scholarship to a college in Boston.
But Fortier said, he opted not to go to Boston.
Instead, Forter said he enrolled in a shorter art program at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
That experience was typical for the missed opportunities in Fortier’s creative life.
Fortier said artist Andy Warhol was on the campus the same time he was attending his art classes at Wesleyan. The famous pop artist saw Fortier’s work and asked to meet the young artist.
But, Fortier said, he was nowhere to be found. He was off smoking marijuana with some girls.
When he returned, Fortier’s art instructor berated the young artist. “Where the heck were you?” That was when Fortier learned he missed out on meeting the iconic celebrity.
It wasn’t the only lost opportunity for Fortier, he explained.
Due to his award for his oil painting in high school, Fortier said he was invited to Washington D.C. to meet President Ronald Reagan. But the letter got waylaid and was never forwarded to him. And by the time, the invitation made it his direction… well, the invitation to meet the president was a week late.
However, those missed opportunities for Fortier are dwarfed by what happened next in the Bristol native’s life.
“I’ve been in and out of jail 14 times,” said Fortier, matter-of-factly. “I used to fight a lot.”
However, said Fortier, the last two trips to prison were for drugs.
Those journeys into the penal system not only punished him but left him physically scarred.
Fortier said when he was in jail, he had his neck broken in two places and he was left with a huge lump on the back of his skull. He doesn’t remember what happened. He blacked out. All he knows about the incident is what he was told by witnesses.
Fortier said he sued those responsible for the damage to his body that still plagues him. But the effort to recoup through the court system netted him a mere $5,000.
“It took a long time for me to forgive them,” said Fortier of his assailants. “I hate having someone have the last laugh on me.”
For a long time, despite the sparks of talent in his younger days, as can be seen, art was beside the point for Fortier.
But, these days, he’s painting again. And that effort has helped pave the way to his January show at Artist Tree.
Asked what happened, what inspired him to pick up a brush again, he said, “I’m a born again Christian.”
Fortier said he realizes now his artistic talent is a gift from God. And he said the Bible says that if God provides a gift, you should not bury it but use it.
“So my whole main motive to doing art is to draw people to Christ,” said Fortier, who is an assistant pastor these days. “I’m going out bold and strong. I am boasting for Jesus.”
For the art show at Artist Tree, Fortier said he is teaming up with an artist he met from California, Peter Mickulak. Mickulak made some noise out on the west coast for his work and some acts of generosity, said Fortier. The duo will be presenting some pieces they created separately. They also intend to work on some collaborative pieces.
Dorraine Thereon Green, owner of Artist Tree said Fortier’s art show, which will have a private reception on Jan. 10 and a public opening on Jan. 11, will put the focus on local West End artists. The theme of the show is to incorporate views of the past, present, and future of that side of town.
“It’s going to be interesting,” said Green, “we’d like to bring in the Bristol Historical Society and give them a chance to see their take on way things were and where we’re headed.”
Fortier said he and Mickulak will be creating works based on old photographs of Bristol… but offering up the scenes in their own artistic style.
The idea for the show came from a bout of brainstorming, said Green.. “We… thought it would be a great opportunity and way to give back to the community.”
Green said, she liked the idea of the West End-centric art show because, “I’m here, I’m in the West End, and this is my hope for where things are heading.”
“When you’re a West End resident, and you’re an artist, it’s nice to have a place to express yourself,” said Green.
As for how he feels about the upcoming exhibit hosted by Artist Tree, Fortier said, “This is a blessing. Anything that helps me expose myself and my artwork is a blessing.”
Artist Tree Tea House is at 160 School St., Bristol. Further details about the art show featuring Gary Fortier and Peter Mickulak will be forthcoming.