Persona

Six months as a leftie! God made a way

Stroke survivor is led to a miracle

Life After Life. This came from my early crayon period, the Malunggay stump in front of our house. It had a second life! (Artist collection/right hand)

Conrad Virina’s wide, boyish grin became a thing of the past following the stroke he suffered in 2018.  Yet, he has remained expressive is so many other ways that have left his friends and family in awe.  He has gained an artistic left hand that, these days, pretty much gives his natural right one a run for its money. He also draws much more than he ever did before.

At a time when many of us are focused on the downside of the 2020 pandemic, losing our minds over some of its inconveniences, Conrad has taken time, valuable as any, to conquer new territories with his art. His persistence is breathtaking. Forget inspiring, because even inspired, many of us may simply not be able do what he has done in so short a time.

“Anything can be learned,” his father often said. Clearly, Conrad took that lesson to heart. Of his amazing grace during this most trying time of his life, Conrad also has relied on prayers; both parents taught him the value of praying.

“My mom never started a storyline, a sequence treatment without a prayer first,” Conrad said of his screenwriter mother. “Both parents were charismatic, both modern. I have been in the renewal since 1990. I pray daily, every morning. I’ve also been posting my doodles and reflections on my FB page almost daily.”

Once a successful advertising creative professional and university art professor, he suffered a stroke that left his right side paralyzed and his eyesight greatly compromised.

Conrad started his new artistic journey, doing gestures, just to see if he could still draw. This was in August 2019. Then he asked his supportive better-half, Ellen, if she would buy him a coloring book to determine if he could still color within the lines.

“Then I became braver and started my own lines,” Conrad said. “About living as a stroke survivor.”

Following the initial exercises, he started his Miracle Series. “I sometimes feel there is so much I can draw, but with very limited time,” Conrad said. “Art keeps me breathing.”

Each and every day, Conrad draws or studies whatever his heart desires, whatever inspires him. “So little time I have, so many things I want to say.”

In 2017, his three children, Miguel, Bianca and Jigo, were finally done with college. “It’s as if I graduated from the expenses,” Conrad joked. He no longer feels the great need to do advertising projects or teach. “My kids have their own lives now,” he said. “I never got rich—but that’s ok. I’ve got a clean nose and a good name!”

Miguel, the eldest, started his own path and recently married. “My son was surprised as I hobbled down the aisle with my head full of pride. I thought, this is our son! I helped raise him!” It was a very emotional moment.

Family and friends have all rallied behind Conrad. Ellen keeps him sane.  Their kids did a fundraising concert. They help Conrad maintain his FB page called Seeking My Balance.  “Also, my golf buddies did a surprise concert. Gave us all the proceeds. Players, caddies, they all came.” Friends from advertising, and their community, have also bought his artwork.

THE LEFT LEADS

Impatient with his slow right hand’s recovery, in January 2020, Conrad decided to try, for the first time in his life, drawing with his left.  It takes him days, up to a week, to finish a piece of art. He does his research, studies for about two days.

The subject matter is always his choice—except for the commissioned works, of which he has done five.  “My works now hang in Canada, US and Manila homes, can you imagine? After only 11 months! Six months as a leftie!”

“My normal right hand did much better.” Conrad mused. “But my left hand was a surprise to me. God is good. He made a way.”

Conrad went from crayons to colored pencils to pastel pencils. Maybe one day, he will try charcoal. “Or try to hold a brush (acrylic?). We will see where art leads. Where God leads.”

Friends in social media who’ve witnessed Conrad’s progress are effusive with praise.  His old advertising buddy and kumpare, Ronnie del Carmen (Oscar-nominated Pixar artist) regularly follows Conrad’s work. They like to reminisce about their comics-hunting and ol’ Adformatix ad days in the Philippines. “He says I am his hero or idol, says he wishes he would be like me if it should happen to him.”

“Art is my life.” Conrad said. “It keeps me breathing.” His influences also keep him inspired.  “Now, I am more into the animation of Miyazaki, Mobius, etc. I’ve also restudied Matisse, Lautrec.  I even discovered Eugene Peterson through Bono (U2) too. Peterson is a pastor. Bono flew from Ireland to a small town in the US to find the old man. His tale about watching a kingfisher diving 35 times for a fish in the lake near his house struck me.”

“Art is often in silence,” Conrad continued. “Like time stops and it’s only me and my art. But I sometimes listen to Spotify (mostly jazz now, or piano or flute) to shut off the ambient sounds around. Okay, sometimes, rock from Sting, Dave Matthews.”

These days, Conrad is deep into his Seed Series — “My little sower contribution to the faith.” He has a special affinity to the biblical passage of the “sower”; it has captivated him for many years.

He is also attempting a new art style, a combination of graphic and 3-D traditional representational. “Akin to my Narra Seeds art.”

Conrad thinks “it’s funny…The better I get, the less interested others become in my work. ‘Normalcy’ is generic, I guess. If you look at my works now, you’d think a ‘normal’ guy did them, right hand or left.

But many people don’t know the struggles that went into getting here.”

When others realize that Conrad’s artworks were done without the use of one eye, “that the person isn’t ‘normal’ any more, they value the pieces more. Compassion is left out the door when buyers are more concerned with survival. Understandable.”

SECOND BIRTHDAY

A month after Conrad turned 60, he received a surprise. His stroke. For a while there, he was filled with anger.

“What did I do wrong?” he asked. “I was running almost twice a week.  Playing golf weekly.  Keeping my weight around 140 lbs. I stopped smoking 18 years ago, started eating lots of fish and vegetables.”

He also was quite busy, teaching junior and senior college students thrice a week, as well as being a social media consultant to World Vision. He was in the midst of a project with the UP College of Music while pursuing a Master’s degree.

Just then, the stroke red-lighted everything for Conrad. He could not even walk!

“Bad trip! But I was alive,” Conrad said. “I think He set me ‘free’ by making me ‘be still’ and do art.”

Conrad’s stroke happened on April 12, 2018.

“My second birthday?”  Most definitely!


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