With dozens of tropical fish lazily floating through azure waters, colorful coral, gliding sea turtles, and a reclining mermaid, the new mural at Vibrant Life Enrichment Center truly makes you feel as if you’re looking through a large picture window into an underwater paradise.
The 150-square-foot installation is the work of local artist Andrea Lyle, a lake area newcomer, who donated her time, as well as the paint and supplies, to create the sprawling masterpiece for the new senior day care center.
“A lot of research has shown art not only improves the physical appearance of care facilities, but actually can aid in healing,” says Vibrant Life owner Todd Ciavola. “We wanted a colorful, natural scene as the main artwork in our relaxation area to help guests unwind, and Andrea really delivered.”
Lyle has dedicated the past two weeks –- and more than 30 hours –- to creating the aquatic mural. The project was the first large-scale painting for the Colorado transplant, who readily admits the 15-foot canvas left her feeling a little overwhelmed initially. But her perseverance has resulted in a one-of-a-kind piece Lyle hopes will bring joy and peace to the people who see it.
“It’s evolved a lot,” she said of the finished scene. “It’s almost like the wall pulled it out of me."
To some, Lyle’s comments might sound abstract, but Lyle firmly believes that true artistic expression is more about the process than the final product. She was content to let the idea for this most recent project evolve on its own – a lesson learned in 2009, when she first turned to the arts as a means of healing from a divorce.
An accomplished author, Lyle initially resorted to writing as a way of expressing herself during those difficult days, but quickly noticed her emotions were being “filtered” through her mind.
“My breakthrough really came when I started spontaneously creating — really self- expressing,” she says.
Lyle began with dance, and then moved on to painting and drawing — something she had enjoyed recreationally for years. Only this time, she approached the blank canvas differently. Rather than immediately starting with an idea of what she wanted to create, she sat and waited.
“I just waited until something came out,” she said. “It’s amazing what happens when you have no expectation.”
Over the following months, Lyle created a series of abstract paintings and noticed a recurrent theme: a movement from dark to light. Surveying the final product, she found herself feeling better –- lighter.
“What was healing about it was that, [the emotions inside me] weren’t in me anymore,” she says. “It liberated a lot of who I am and who I really wanted to be.”
A registered nurse by profession, Lyle is now blending her two passions –- healing and creativity — into a therapeutic model for personal growth. The petite 57-year-old is passionate about bringing the same freedom of self expression she has found to others.
In the coming months, Lyle will be facilitating Creativity Sessions at Vibrant Life, where she’ll be helping seniors with illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes –- even stroke survivors — express themselves through art, music and dance.
But Lyle is quick to point out that what she will be doing is different from traditional art therapy, which often involves the evaluation of finished artwork in order to determine the artist’s inner feelings and struggles. Lyle maintains that no one can be truly self-expressive when they know the final product will be critiqued.
“It’s frustrating for someone limited in their physical abilities to ‘draw a geranium.’ But when given an opportunity to express without fear of judgment, criticism, competition, or comparison, something magical happens in the process.
“Art is the key to the heart,” said Lyle with a smile. “It lets the heart speak what the mind won’t allow.”
For aging seniors, that often means a change of focus — taking a look at what they can still do, as opposed to what they can’t.
“When we focus on health instead of illness, it changes the game,” she said. “What you focus on expands, and the body responds to those thoughts.”
Looking to the future, Lyle envisions using her passion to help people of all ages discover the freedom available through true self-expression. Ultimately, she hopes to one day create a physical place where people can go to express themselves creatively.
“Rather than a Recreation Center, it would be a Creation Center, like a fitness center for the heart and soul, to help develop that side of us,” she says. “Creativity bridges the gap between our mind and body, and our heart and soul. We need to develop all of that to be whole.”