CHEK Upside: How art helped transform a West Shore man from criminal to community hero

CHEK Upside: How art helped transform a West Shore man from criminal to community hero

Esquimalt Lagoon is home to many eye-catching, interesting characters.

There are dogs on the beach, birds in the sky and seals in the water. There are also enough driftwood art pieces to fill a small gallery and, when you meet the man behind these driftwood delights, the art takes on a whole new meaning.

“1999, I was in a bad place,” said West Shore-based artist, Paul Lewis.

Much like one of his beach-side pieces titled ‘Stellar Jay,’ Lewis was once in need of repairs.

“I was into drugs and I was doing armed robberies to support my habit,” said Lewis, who spent eight years in prison.

It was during those long days behind bars where Lewis vowed to turn his life around. It was also where he discovered his artistic touch.

“I did a lot of painting and drawing because, obviously, I had a lot of time on my hands,” said Lewis. “It was my time to escape.”

After his release, Lewis stayed away from drugs, became a full-time scaffolder and kept up his new hobby of painting as a way to maintain balance.

A few years ago, Lewis added driftwood art to his portfolio.

“It’s a good feeling to give back and make people’s day, I mean, a lot of people, especially this time, are going through some hard stuff,” said Lewis. “People come down here and it’s a little getaway, puts a smile on their face.”

Through his art, Lewis has built a strong connection with the West Shore community.

Prior to the pandemic, the 49-year-old taught driftwood workshops hoping to inspire the younger generation.

Earlier this week, Lewis made headlines being labelled a local hero and named the arts advocate of the year.

“You know, I’m not using drugs and doing crimes anymore, I’m doing positive and constructive stuff with my time,” said Lewis “It’s been absolutely life-changing.”

After travelling the long road to redemption, Lewis hopes his story can help others experiencing dark times.

“There is hope for change, but you actually have to do it, you have to do the work.”

Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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