Artist grapples with life challenges through therapeutic art

A schoolteacher, landscape designer and painter, Brett Rewakowski creates art that help others cope with loss.

Brett Rewakowski did not have it easy growing up. One by one, everyone who was close to him decided to leave. 

At 10 years old, his father had a heart attack. In college, his best friend died in a car crash. In his twenties, a hunter shot and killed his cousin. Years later after a fine party, his friend’s girlfriend insisted she wanted to drive. She was slightly drunk. On the way back, she flipped the car over, killing them both.

"Art for me became therapy. A means to express feelings difficult to talk about and create something that would stay."
- Brett Rewakowski

This pattern has continued.

“Art for me became therapy. A means to express feelings difficult to talk about and create something that would stay,” 39-year-old local artist Brett Rewakowski said.

A schoolteacher, landscape designer and painter, he also collects Star Wars toys. He's built an entire museum of Star Wars collectibles that he claims could be the second largest on the West Coast.

But, Rewakowski is more interested in reselling these toys and turning in the profits to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He said the foundation had built a swimming pool for a friend’s family who had been suffering from cancer.

“His wish made others happy even after his death. That is what I try and achieve through my work. I have raised hundreds of dollars for them and I wish I could do more,” Rewakowski said.

Rewakowski mostly paints on pieces of wood. “A canvas is a plain white square, but every piece of wood is different,” he said. The texture of wood guides him in his paintings.

“The tree wants to tell a story, and I help tell it,” he says.

“When Brett paints on wood, he and nature are working together,” his sister Amy King, 49, explained. She said that once the two spent days traveling together, and he later documented the trip scene by scene in a painting. 

But, her favorite is the painting of a waterfall where Rewakowski had proposed to his wife. The painting holds center stage in Brett’s drawing room, a museum of landscape imagery.

Rewakowski is constantly looking for new ways to express himself through his artwork. (Photo: Courtesy of Brett Rewakowski)

Brett Rewakowski constantly looks for new ways to express himself through his artwork. (Photo: Courtesy of Brett Rewakowski)

A cascade of white and blue is displayed on a big canvas next to the living room window. From there you can also see another waterfall that Rewakowski has built with his hands in the garden.

However, you will see canvases of cloth are restricted to the living room. His studio on the contrary looks like a carpenter’s workshop. He said he prefers painting on bark.

The artist’s technique with wood, he said, is his silent rebellion against consumerism. In today’s world of disposable everything, trees are a constant for Rewakowski.

“You could shoot a tree five times, and it still lives,” he says. He paints on wood because like nature his muse, he likes to recycle.

Like a tree, the artist grows new leaves every season. In 2013, Rewakowski challenged himself to make a hundred paintings in a hundred days. Most of these paintings were landscapes.

“Brett loves to paint the sunrise and sunset, waterfalls, rolling hills and woods,” Sherry, 24, his student who has also modeled for his works, said. “Even when I model for his, I am just a small figurine, in something larger, more majestic,” she said.

Earlier this year, Rewakowski embarked on yet another adventure, this time three-dimensional art. “I was at a show at Sterling Stage where an artist had put on display 3D works. A person from his booth wearing 3D glasses came to my booth and told me my works were 3D too,” Rewakowski said.

When viewed through a 3D glass some colors in his paintings go forward and some backward. This technique has already influenced his style, he said. Rewakowski has started building a new body of works exploring the third dimension.

He said that when people see the colors dancing on the canvas, they often think that it is a trick. According to Rewakowski, they are so used to seeing paintings that are static, that they keep trying the glasses on, scratching their head in amazement, smiling, laughing.

And that is what thrills the artist. He said he enjoys making his audience smile.

Rewakowski also makes customized works based on photographs of loved ones or pets. He said giving happiness to others is his driving point.

“When someone buys my work, I have made a connection with that person beyond words,” Rewakowski said.

At the end of the day, by reaching out to trees or human beings, Rewakowski said he is embracing life and therefore defeating death. He cannot forget the presence that death has had in his life, and so he tries to capture moments in life that will remain immortal through his art. 

The man’s peculiar obsession with death developed his art and also the reason behind his Star Wars collection.

Rewakowski’s father suffereds a heart attack because of smoking. In 2000, Rewakowski who smoked a pack a day decided to quit. He said he diverted every
$5 bill to buy a toy instead.

His paintings, his toys, his love for trees are a living testament to artist’s resilient spirit, his friend Philip Impaglia, 23, said.

“Let’s face it, life is really full of negatives. You can focus on those or on the positives,” Rewakowski said, as he wears his 3D glasses to start something new.

One thing is certain. With or without those glasses, people like him have the ability to look beyond. 

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