Paul Archer was in the middle of a live TV interview when he saw an emotional moment nearby that changed him.
Archer, a Victoria artist specializing in airbrush work, had painted a portrait of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was gunned down in 2014 at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The portrait was laid at the Victoria cenotaph as part of a Remembrance Day ceremony.
|Archer said he had tears in his eye while painting this veteran. (Archer Airbrushing/Facebook)
“At the end of the ceremony, an old war vet walks up to the painting and he took off his poppy, laid it in front of the painting and then stood back and saluted it with tears in his eyes,” said Archer. “And that just brought me up and over … I started to mist.”
Archer, whose artwork graces the front of this special section on page A9, has been painting scenes of veterans every November for the past four years as a way of giving back.
Last November, Archer donated four of his paintings to the Royal Canadian Legion in Langford. Two depicted veterans in their uniforms; one was of the ‘last kiss’ between a soldier leaving on a train and a woman dressed in a Canadian Forces uniform; and another of a young child embracing her father just home from Afghanistan.
“I think it stems back from that one war vet, whoever he was, that happened to just lay down his poppy, step back and salute – that just told a million stories right there,” said Archer.
In addition to the Remembrance Day pieces, Archer has also undertaken a homeless series that features several veterans.
|Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91 in Langford, Premier John Horgan and Archer stand with the Last Kiss painting. (Archer Airbrushing/Facebook)
“When I see a homeless war vet, it just absolutely sinks my heart,” he said. “[These paintings] are heavy reminders for our generations.”
The first study looking at veteran homelessness in Canada found that an estimated 2,250 veterans use homeless shelters each year across the country.
According to the same study, almost three per cent of annual shelter users were identified as veterans.
Archer said he wants people to remember the sacrifices these veterans made when looking at his paintings.
“I guess my ultimate is for people to actually be affected emotionally by my work, whether it’s happy or scared and creepy or whether it’s love or painful,” he said. “I want to get to that point where my artwork has emotions to it.”
While this Remembrance Day will look different from those in the past, Archer said he’s hoping to continue on the tradition of painting a veteran each November.