Artist finds an art that heals
By Tricia Caspers
Feel-good art-- Magdalene Chan loved art as a
child but never had time to pursue it. She worked in
banking, advertising and child support services until a
work injury forced her to leave her job six years ago.
The injury left Chan with severe, chronic chest pains,
and there was no cure. When she signed up for art
classes at Alameda College, she discovered that
painting eased her pain considerably.
Her art teacher, David Hernandez, encouraged her to
apply to art school. She won a summer grant to study
illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
Chan's artwork, including a painting titled, "Alameda
Sunset" which depicts a sunset over the Island just
before a rainstorm, will be displayed at the Alameda
Museum in an exhibit titled "I Can't Believe It's Not a
The exhibit runs Aug. 2 through Aug. 30 with a
reception 1-4 p.m., Aug. 16. The museum is at 2324
Alameda Ave. Details: 510-521-1233.
Friday, July 25, 2003
'Wakeup call' aids Alameda painter
By Suzanne Storar
As a little girl, Magdalene Chan could draw a convincing likeness
of Scooby Doo while watching the cartoon dog on TV. But art
never figured into her grownup work at a bank and a district
Six years ago, Chan was establishing child support orders for the
San Francisco District Attorney when her workplace was assailed
with toxic fumes. Chan, who is asthmatic, developed chronic
chest pains. Pain killers only made her sick.
"I was in a lot of pain, just trying to survive every day," says
Chan. "I decided if I'm going to be in pain, I may as well go on
with my life."
She took art classes at College of Alameda and noticed that
working in watercolors distracted her from the pain. She
continued the classes, and a teacher suggested she attend the
Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Her husband,
Andrew, encouraged her as well.
Chan spent over two years in art school with a goal of learning the
basics, not getting a degree. Artworks created there -- charcoal
and color studies plus modern pieces incorporating symbol and
story -- fill her home. At first, she thought she would pursue an
"Then I realized I was not an illustrator because they are hired to
do what the client wants. I like to do what I want to do. I wanted
to be a fine artist," she says.
Chan was limited to working in watercolors because oil paints
irritated her chest pains. Yet, watercolor paintings were typically
freeform, and Chan wanted to emulate the ultra-realistic paintings
of artist John Arbuckle.
Out of Arbuckle's tutoring came two watercolors that combine
Chan's religious beliefs with her art. "Compassion" is an almost
photographic image of a lemon plucked from a tree, leaves still
attached. One damaged leaf among the other leaves symbolizes
God's compassion for everyone. "Brokenness" shows a bowl of
oranges partially peeled, which Chan relates to the concept
"sometimes you have to be broken to be made whole."
She used her art in Christian outreach activities at Bay Area
churches, but soon realized she would need to show and sell her
work to reach more people.
"I'm not going to glorify God with all my artwork inside my
house," she says.
In 2002, Chan participated in Alameda's Art in the Park. The
exposure led to a one-artist show at the Alameda Museum last
When she first toured the museum's gallery, she wondered how
she would fill the large space.
"I don't paint quickly and I don't want to compromise my art, so I
dedicated my year to just painting," she says.
In addition to new works, she included pieces from art school,
such as charcoal still life studies, to show that learning art requires
hard work and discipline.
Chan's work is hanging in Au Lait, a local cafe, plus a Berkeley
gallery and a restaurant soon to open on Park Street. She is also
teaching art to two young girls, using her own curriculum, out of
Teaching art, she says, gives children an opportunity she didn't
Chan recognizes that she had lived on what is considered the safe
side of life before the workplace accident.
"The pain was a wakeup call. I wasn't doing what God intended
me to be doing. Now I can use art as a way to share with people
what God is doing in my life."
Call Suzanne T. Storar at 523-6641 or e-mail
STStorar@aol.com with information about Alameda's interesting
people, places or events.
Thursday, October 16, 2003