Painting Toward Grace

The Artist and His Wife

I've written about my friend, fellow brain cancer survivor, and watercolor classmate, Michael Orchowski, in a previous post, but I'm going to do it again.  I want you to have an opportunity to participate in the remarkable journey of one of the most fascinating people I've ever met.  Are you reading this, Barbara Walters?

The Dream Foundation is collaborating with Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and 33 Jewels at El Paseo to present an exhibition of Michael's work, "Painting Toward Grace", on Thursday, December 1, 5-8pm, at 33 Jewels gallery in downtown Santa Barbara as part of 1st Thursday

From the event flyer:

"Michael's art is rich with imagery, with each of his paintings detailing his journey through and beyond illness.  Michael hopes that others will benefit from his experience, and enjoy this exhibition of his work...

"In the advanced stages of ALS, Michael's wish is to have an exhibition of his work "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity." Paralyzed on his right side, and only able to use his non-dominant left hand, he strives to express himself in "joyful colors, with my right brain and my left hand.  The colors which I applied in the various paintings are happy and express my positive outlook towards life."

Nearly every painting Michael has painted in class will be on display and for sale, so there should be a lot of opportunities to obtain some one-of-a-kind holiday gifts!  Michael and his equally inspiring wife, Doedy, are generously donating the proceeds from the event to be divided equally between the Dream Foundation and the CCSB Wellness Programs, to increase awareness for both organizations.

Michael is a bright, shining light with an infectious smile, and an inspiration to everyone he meets.  But don't just take it from me - I've asked my classmates to contribute their thoughts on our friend Michael, too:

  • "What a pleasure it is being a painting comrade with Michael. He is an inspiration of love and hope and an artist to boot! His paintings exude joy and life filled with color and brush strokes that define his unique style, absolute "Michaelness". His art is a true expression of his life, his heart and his story, which is compelling and reaches out and touches the viewer. I'm glad that he found his brush." - Libby Whaley
  • "Michael is the kind of philosopher we need quoted in textbooks.  Upbeat, courageous, memorable, he smiles at himself and the capriciousness of life.  Michael has a droll sense of humor, and a gentle, loving and sensitive heart.  He’s a one-of-a-kind artist, and an inspiring member of our art class.  He’s a hero!" - Laurette Valentine
  • "Michael's art has always expressed to me his love of life in the face of challenges and pain. His good humor and whimsy belies strength founded in humility and kindness." - Michael Taylor
  • "When I first met Michael I felt an immediate bond with him. I know he felt it, too. It was only after my initial meeting and conversations with him that I was able to step back and appreciate his art. What a treat that was! He can somehow capture what is going on in his body with paint and paper in the most amazing way. His paintings are expressive, organic and extremely captivating. He is a remarkable person in many, many ways and an artist in the BEST sense. I am proud to know him." - Karen Westheimer
  • "I'm the girl that sat next to you most of the time at class. Your work there has been an authentic journey towards Heaven.  Your graceful attitude has inspired many a great deal. I looked forward for Mondays to come. I have enjoyed the comments, the interaction and the encouragement with you. I hope to see you at your coming exhibit. You leave behind you a work of love that I personally appreciate. Your presence will be real to me in my future work, and I hope will reflect what friendship and support can bring to a searching world for true goodness. Your positiveness gave me hope and then some.  Ma el salama, my dear friend......" - Natalie Khoury
  • "Watching Michael paint is an education in itself. Every brush stroke is loaded with meaning and is an integral part of the whole painting. In this way, each of us adds an integral part to the lives of those around us. Michael has shown us by example that, no matter what challenge arises, there is a way to express yourself and create beauty in your very own, wonderful style. Thank you, Michael, for blessing us with so many magical paintings--you can always tell an Orchowski!" - Tessa Flanagan
  • "Michael is our Archangel." - Rick Stich, Instructor
  • "The kindest blue eyes. Big blue and filled with love. His art is an extension of his love and the way he lives. Each piece is filled with bright colors, abstract, yes but his message is clear, live each moment in joy and hope. I love you know that." - Charlene Hovey

Please join Michael's friends and help Michael fulfill his dream on this very special night.

  • Location: 33 JEWELS AT EL PASEO, 814 State Street, 805-957-9100
  • Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
  • Time: 5:00 - 8:00pm
  • Bonus: Wine and refreshments will be served.


Acknowledging Michael

I had the honor of meeting Michael at the Santa Barbara Brain Tumor Support Group.  It was so encouraging to hear his 4 year Victory over his tumor, the treatment worked and his tumor was gone.  He was a song of Triumph. Several months later he was to tell the group his new challenge, the diagnosis of ALS, and we were all moved to cry along with him as he shared.  He touchingly asked if he could continue attending this group, as the other one depressed him as he saw and confronted what was in store for him.  We only saw him one or two more times.  Always he gave encouragement and hope for those in attendance.  I have a set of his Korgi dog cards, framed and hung in my kitche.They always bring a smile to my face and a reminder to me to embrace Michael's advise to charish loved ones and the moment, appreciating nature and life. Michael will be with us, alive in our hearts, in that special place only he has touched.

without ego, a state of Grace

boyfriend's picture

In a voice that took a little extra effort to follow, Michael asked me what I liked about a piece of art we were admiring. I was pushing his wheelchair around an art show and as I pushed, I made an extra effort to stop and let him look at pieces I didn't care for. It didn't take either of us long to figure out we had similar tastes so we'd spend a bit more time on the pieces we liked.

His simple question and my even more simple answers started me thinking. See, I couldn't really answer it well, or rather, in a way that I was satisfied with. I couldn't capture the essence of why I liked a piece; it sounded too simplistic for what I actually felt.

And that's how I feel about Michael – I can't capture the essence of it.

I've only met a handful of people in my life that are, well, interested in everything. And if you yourself are interested in everything, these people are irresistible. I'd look forward to every time I'd see him because, fleeting as our conversation might be, it was sure to be stimulating in a way that just can't compare to normal.

His art is interesting to me because it so eloquently captures 'what can be done without ego'. He's right- handed but cancer paralyzed his right side so he used his left hand to paint. To put this in perspective for myself, I tried brushing my teeth with my left hand. Try it. I think, like me, you'll have almost no control.

I have no doubt Michael got better at using his non-dominant hand; I also have no doubt that the lack of control endowed his painting with a freeness and vitality that'd have been difficult if not impossible to achieve with his dominant hand. It is only by giving up control that you can ever reach that state of Grace.

And this line of thought makes me think about IT work. It's easy to reduce that to ones and zeros, or “logic”. But I've found there are too many aspects to consciously control every single one of them. So I beat my head against the wall until I give up, go biking or whatever, and come back later with a different mindset. Then it all works quite nicely - like what I see in Michael's art.

Come see Michael's art at his Painting Toward Grace exhibition. Buy a work to support the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara's Wellness Programs and the Dream Foundation. More importantly, buy a work so you'll always be reminded of what a different mindset can accomplish.

I wish I could have gone to

rebelprince26's picture

I wish I could have gone to the show last night!  How inspiring!  Thanks for posting.

Me, too!

girlbert's picture

Hey Brother,

You would have liked Michael, and you would have really liked his work.  Our instructor likens his work to that of Paul Klee, who is your favorite!  I'm going to try to get some digital images of his paintings, so that I can share his work with everyone.  His work was really profound and every piece has a story, usually about healing from cancer, spending time with his wife, his travels all over the globe, or battling ALS.  But he was always happy, and that was really inspiring to everyone.

Love you!




i don't want to go to any more meetings.

I couldn't make the the opening. Partly because I was too sick, and partly because I was too sick over Michael.  I just heard that afternoon.  This may not seem like much, but we shared cupcakes.  And Dodie put me for the night once, after a meeting.  I thought I could do it after carb & avastin (don't care how it's spelled) infusion in one day. He'd recommended to teach myself lefty, since he used to be a lefty.  I asked him how I avoid smudging the writing.  I remember him smiling and reminding me, that since he originally was left-handed, and now writing right-handed, and the original design for writing was meant for right-handed writing, you see, there would be a few challenges, although not so unmountable, that I would'nt be able to master with a little time. Evonne, you can do it. And he smiled again, and have more of his cupcake. We liked sweets. 

He won't be at Qiong either. 

I wanted to ask him about so other things.  Mostly because he so liked to explain, and didn't mind. I wanted to talk to him some more.  He's the kind of person that really geniunely cared when he listened and talked to you.  Equally. 

He was too easy to care about. I wish I could see Dodie, but I don't want to upset her with my foolishness. I can take my contacts as light as brief as I can at the center. I know it may be selfish and childish, and everything that should be above the greater scheme of things, gracefully and dignified.  But I'm known for delayed reactions, and right now I want to have a chocolate cupcake with my friend, but he's gone. 

I don't want to go to the meetings any more. :(



Nice trying

Nice information, many thanks to the author. It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming.  Thanks again and good luck.

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