Sask. muralist defies death with art meant to stand the test of time

For Michael Gaudet, painting is as vital as the dialysis that has kept him alive for the last four years.

Artist Michael Gaudet says he doesn't know if dialysis will keep him alive long enough for transplant

Michael Gaudet has been painting murals since he was a teenager. (Michael Gaudet)

For Michael Gaudet, painting is as vital as the dialysis that has kept him alive for the last four years.

"Painting and creativity in general is really good for the soul — it helps feed your soul," said Gaudet, a 60-year-old muralist who hails from Manitou Beach.

He knows there's no guarantee the dialysis will keep him alive long enough to receive a kidney transplant from a potential donor.

Gaudet works on a mural for Tisdale. (Michael Gaudet/Facebook)

He is inspired by his artistic heroes, like Michaelangelo and Diego Rivera, to keep painting the brilliant murals that grace towns and cities across Saskatchewan.

"Now they're long gone but their work lives on," he said.

Gaudet began painting murals as a teenager in Toronto, after he was diagnosed with chronic end-stage renal failure.

"I decided, since I was kind of faced with a near-death experience at the young age of 19, that I wanted to leave my mark in the world," he said.

He ended up painting a visual prayer, a silent wish for the gift of life. It showed a patient slowly getting up from a bed to walking with crutches to striding off the canvas.

Michael Gaudet began painting murals seriously at the age of 19, after becoming seriously ill. His first mural work was a visual prayer for health. (Michael Gaudet/Web gallery)

It turned out to be prophetic. Gaudet received a life-saving transplant from his brother that kept him in "glorious health" for the next 34 years.

Since then he has kept busy painting murals across Western Canada, with some featuring multiple images that flow from the beginning of a town's history to present-day.

A mural in the Town of Young features multiple images from the town's history fused together. (Michael Gaudet/Facebook)

"I guess it's like an embrace of the larger community that has come and gone over the years, and families."

He also tackled a project he calls his "high watermark," a massive mural measuring nearly 14 metres by 11 metres on display at the Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church in Saskatoon.

"It really is breathtaking," he said.

Michael Gaudet says this mural in Saskatoon, finished with the help of his daughter and mural-painting accomplice Ilara Stefaniuk-Gaudet, is his most important work to date. (Michael Gaudet/Web gallery)

Gaudet had a health setback in May 2014. His kidney function had deteriorated so badly that he was at risk of a spontaneous bleed at any moment, with a subsequent risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Dialysis has given him the hope that he may live long enough to get a transplant, but he's not simply waiting around for a donor.

A steel installation, dipped in nickel, is part of the projects planned for Michael Gaudet's hometown of Manitou Beach. He expects the project to be unveiled in August of 2019. (Michael Gaudet/Facebook)

He's collaborating on a centennial project for his hometown of Manitou Beach, which will include murals and a giant steel structure, dipped in nickel, that will literally reflect the world around it.

Gaudet will keep painting, finding the healing within it, for however long he has left.

"We only have so many years. And I just don't want to go down without a fight."

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend