In defiance of despair, talented artist emerges
Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “IF” holds many endearing tones of hope … and one that rings most profoundly lies in mid-verse of the work:
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you … except the Will which says to them, ‘Hold on!’”
New London native and most recently a blossoming new artist in the southeastern Connecticut collective of painters, Matty P has lived that blistering verse of Kipling’s soulful commentary. He has also endured the trials of another literary title, “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” – a harrowing descent into despair that Eugene O’Neill’s well-known play dramatized so vividly. But it’s trying to emerge from that dreary night and back into the light of a new dawn where one’s true mettle is tested.
Matty P has met and answered that call. He had long sought and pursued a life of greater promise than circumstance and cultural backdrop had offered … and he had come within a fingernail’s reach of it. Then fate in the form of a total stranger’s reckless disregard for others derailed him from his hard-earned destination.
Born in New London where he had attended local public schools, the now 40-year-old, tall and powerfully built Matty P and his family had left the region while he was still very young to live in Plainfield, where he graduated from Ellis Tech in 1995.
“Once I graduated, I wanted to move on from Plainfield,” he said in the quiet manner of one who had nurtured dreams unspoken in his mind and heart for years. “I wanted to do something more in my life than factory work or construction.”
A stint in the Air Force brought him into the arena of medical work which had fascinated him. It left him with a yearning for more of it in his future.
Matt’s journey toward that destination began colorfully, the saga of the restless young man seeking to explore the frontier of his own life.
He did so in vintage wayfarer fashion while emulating the theme of a legendary music ballad: “Me and You and a Dog named Boo,” by folk singer Lobo.
“I was in my early 20s, living down in Boone, North Carolina, near the Appalachians and making good money working construction. I was eager to travel and test out my newly found sense of freedom,” he explained during a post-workout at Waterford Fitness Center. “There was an animal shelter adjacent to the construction site, so I naturally visited it,” Matt said, his affinity for animals surfacing.
He marched in and asked which of all the dogs had been there the longest and left with an eager, tail-wagging all-American mutt he named Kaya: pals on the spot and for a good long time afterward.
The two set out on an adventure, the sort that’s typical of freewheeling youth.
They journeyed west together in Matt’s classic Bronco II, exploring America’s spacious territories until staying with a sage older cousin in Texas who advised him it was time for his soul-fulfilling venture to end and preparations for a fruitful future to begin.
“I knew it was time to get busy making something more of my life,” he said.
It led him back to his original home in New London County where he stayed with relatives, his nana and uncle who both encouraged him to apply to college. The kindly couple assumed custody of faithful old Kaya while Matt attended Western Connecticut State University where he pursued studies in the subject area that had so fascinated him while in the Air Force: medical practice.
“I wondered if my high school academic background would prove strong enough for that kind of pursuit, so I took up the option of ‘shadowing’ a doctor while enrolled in the freshman/sophomore liberal arts studies. I also took anatomy courses to get the background I would need for when I had to take more specialized courses,” he explained. “An oldtime doctor out of New London advised me not to do these medical studies halfway, but to try and become an actual practicing doctor.”
Matt’s drive for the life he pursued is clear from the passion that yet lingers in his memory of the goal so cruelly whisked away from him.
“I had a lot of catching up to do, coming initially from a vocational-technical high school and now taking on all those required medical studies. But I kept telling myself, ‘How badly do you want this, and how hard are you willing to work for it?’”
As a 21-year-old undergrad, Matt worked his way into a position as a health care coordinator at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, and then part-time at Danbury Hospital, keeping at-risk patients from harming themselves.
“Those were my jobs during college, and they related directly to my field of study,” he said. “I loved the work!”
Treating the person
He graduated in May 2003 with a degree in psychology and pre-med, then was accepted for graduate studies at the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine and his long-sought degree that would be the equivalent of an M.D.
“Osteopathic medicine holds the philosophy that you treat the entire patient and not just the symptoms.”
His residency began at Kent County Hospital in Rhode Island, along with his training to become a family physician.
Then a woman completely absorbed in texting while driving disrupted the entire course of Matt’s promising career. He was rear-ended while waiting for a light to change on Cross Road in Waterford as her car careened into his.
The result: a severe concussion while simply driving home responsibly that February night in 2010. Unable to function at full capacity due to the severity of the concussion, Matt was not allowed to continue at his chosen field of work.
“I’ve seen doctors and specialists over the last eight years and I’ve not been cleared to return to my job. My medical career is over.”
Matt was introduced to the world of crossfit training, a merging of body, mind and spirit in a fitness tour-de-force that contains a healing element all of its own. He swears by the workouts that began at the former New London CrossFit, now Waterford Fitness Center.
Ironically the gym is now on the same Cross Road where the life he was pursuing ended. As for work, he helps out neighbors with chores — a far cry from the dream for which he had worked so diligently.
And now this quiet giant of a man has disovered a potent source of inner strength building, a whole new frontier: the arts.
Acting on the urging of friends and relatives, he was introduced to the New London Arts & Student League where he first experienced figure drawing. Matt fell into it passionately and soon became a regular member.
“Clint Slowick, owner of the Marquee Gallery, let us use his place for free. Kimmy, a neighbor who was also an artist, first brought me there,” he said. “I joined as a means of finding something else to keep my mind busy. I was frustrated with having failed at things that had once been so routine for me. The artwork provided me with something where I might find success again.”
And he indeed found success, winning third place in a juried show sponsored by the Hygienic. The drawing was titled “Green Secrets” — an abstract of multiple shades that seized and captured the imagination of the arts community and its connoisseurs.
After his own “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” where he had suffered the despair of not being permitted back into his chosen profession, Matty P just may have uncovered a new one.
He has thrown himself into it wholeheartedly and now has a complete display of abstract paintings hanging proudly in the foyer lobby of the New London branch of Chelsea-Groton Bank on the corner of Montauk and Bank, thanks to bank manager Jo-Anne Cain.
“That prize made me think I might be able to pursue art as more than a therapeutic hobby,” he said.
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