October 18, 2012 in Washington Voices

Denae Veselits has risen above dark childhood

Jennifer Larue
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Spokane artist Denae Veselits is inspired by literature, music and nature. Her style ranges from abstract to realism. “Art should be uplifting,” she says.
(Full-size photo)

Quote of the week

“He dared us to be more than we ever thought we could be. His expectations even bordered on the dangerous: when he had us swimming in rivers that were too swift; climbing mountains that were really too high; playing in places as children where truly ‘the angels feared to tread.’ ”

From the Veselits’ eulogy to their father

Coming up

Denae Veselits will be hosting an open studio art exhibit in her home from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For the address, call (509) 624-4746 or email denae4art@yahoo.com.

Tucked away in an apartment in Browne’s Addition, Denae Veselits brandishes a brush dipped in acrylic paint. A world of light and beauty spills from the tip of the colored bristles.

Rooted in music, literature and nature, Veselits’ work reflects her playful and curious nature that emerged from the ashes of a far from perfect childhood. She is proof that children are resilient and that, even in an environment of poverty, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and seeming hopelessness, hope remains.

“It was such a dark past,” Veselits said. “Now, all I want to do is paint the light. I want my work to be uplifting and to send out endorphins.”

Veselits’ and six of her siblings’ stories are contained within a memoir called “Birds of Passage” that has been sent to a dozen literary agents from here to New York. They relay tragic comedies of error, injustices, painful and humiliating punishments, and their individual understandings of a childhood gone wrong with a frightening father and an often unhinged mother. Memories of near starvation, picking strawberries, being shoved into the broom closet after a beating, hiding in a ditch for what seemed like hours, and dreaming of cupcakes are mixed with their saving graces – the garden, literature, movies and each other.

After reading the memoir, one cannot help but understand the dozens of paintings that decorate Veselits’ small yet comfortable home. Never married and without children, she has spent much of her life after “those days” as a caretaker for others and as a bringer of the light, diligently creating works of art that capture all that is good.

Veselits graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and women’s studies. She often took time off from school to work with Alzheimer’s patients, recovering alcoholics, and mentally disabled children and adults. Soon after graduating, she made the decision to paint full-time.

For the past 20 years, Veselits has sold her work locally and out of her twin sister’s bridal shop in Connecticut. She has buyers from all over the world. Her greatest successes include an invitation to Paris to tour Vincent Van Gogh’s stomping grounds because of a large Van Gogh tribute painting she did, and the purchase by the now-closed Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art in Bellevue of Veselits’ 18-painting series “Diaspora – the Dolls Tale,” which utilized rare folk art dolls, exploring the interface of black and white culture during the period of slave trade between Africa and the Americas.

At 14, Veselits’ mother made her recite “I promise to be a human being when I grow up” 100 times. In order to rebel while remaining respectful, she changed “being” to “bean,” and so began, as she writes in the memoir, “my ascendancy, my Unbearable Lightness of Being – the unbearable lightness of being a human bean … when I grow up.” Now, grown up, she controls her world with a wand of many colors, masterfully moving from one style or subject matter to another like a bird of passage.

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