Dr. Ron Clavier has gone from a career as a brain scientist, to a clinical psychologist specializing in teenage mental health, to a full-time artist with a passion for helping others.
“it is hard not to notice how science and art are our very best tools for understanding the world we live in,” he says, and his latest endeavour combines his medical background and expertise and his love of art to work with seniors.
To that end, he has organized his first art exhibit at a retirement community, with a small group of seniors adding their art to his.
This Saturday and Sunday, his Coming of Age exhibit will be on display at the Royal Henley Retirement Community in St. Catharines, with 50 per cent of all proceeds from the sale of the artwork going to Community Care of St. Catharines. As Clavier points out, the main beneficiaries of the art show will be seniors who are not nearly as fortunate as those living at the Royal Henley, with Community Care helping people who cannot be sure of a meal or a place to sleep on any given day.
Clavier says he’s very excited about this exhibit, which “goes beyond the art. It’s part of an initiative for senior emotional
And he hopes it will not be a “one-off,” but the first of many. While Royal Henley heard about him through a friend and invited him to organize this exhibit, he would like to do something similar with long-term care homes in NOTL and across the region, he says.
Clavier explains his interest in mental illness began when he was young. His mother was one of 10 children, and the only one who was healthy — all nine of her siblings, and many of their children, Clavier’s cousins, were mentally ill, he said. He witnessed them being bullied, left out of society, and coping with their illness while having a barrage of insults hurled at them. He decided at an early age he wanted to help and understand people with mental illness, and started on the path to becoming a neuroscientist.
A distinguished career in medical faculties in major North American medical schools followed, “but I started to have a yen to deal with people directly,” he says, which led him to clinical work, specializing in teen mental wellness. He was often invited to speak to students in schools, and grew his private practice at the same time, becoming known as “the guy who wrote the book on teenage psychology.”
That was 40 years ago, says Clavier, now 74, who moved to NOTL about a decade ago. As well as turning full-time to his painting, he also began helping organizations such as the Lord Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, in their annual pre-COVID teen mental wellness conferences, talking to them about changes in their bodies and their brains at that age, and coming to terms with “living in a more complex world, a better world, but different.”
His teaching isn’t restricted to teens — he talks about the phrase, ‘changing your mind’ as learning, and says learning never ends, regardless of age. Learning is a mechanism that keeps us safe, and at the same time feels good, giving us a “jolt of brain reward, that makes us want to continue learning.”
The title of the upcoming art exhibit, Coming of Age, refers to ongoing learning, he says. “It has to do with getting older, although we usually apply that to young people,” who are nearing adulthood, being able to do things they couldn’t do previously. But we can learn and take on new activities at every stage of our lives, he explains, including when we’re retired and have more time to learn something new, to contribute, “to change our minds, to come to a better understanding of the world, and to understand ourselves and what is going on around us.”
He tells a story of about 35 years ago, when he had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with astronaut Marc Garneau. When Clavier said he had always wanted to be an astronaut, Garneau said it wasn’t too late, that the space program was looking for astronauts, that he could still apply, and age didn’t matter. He did apply, and got through some of the first cuts, but didn’t make it to the end. “It never happened, I didn’t get to go to space, but I applied. The point is I tried something new. Don’t assume something is too hard. And don’t kick yourself saying ‘I should have . . .’”
Life, as poet Robert Frost says, is a road, so make sure you get on that road and get where you want to be, learning along the way.
Coming of age, he continues, “happens to everybody of every age, when they’re learning new things, when they know something today they didn’t know yesterday.”
Last December, he began meeting with a group of people at Royal Henley who had some interest in art — they could be professionals, amateurs, or learning something completely new — and began working with some of them toward this exhibit. Some will have their work in the show this weekend.
Clavier refers to life as a journey of learning that doesn’t end until life does, “and all we can do is live our lives the best we
can, work hard and make the world a little better. You don’t have to be famous, you don’t have to make a huge mark, you just have to make a contribution.”
The day will come for all of us when we feel like we’ve run a marathon and the race is behind us, and it was tough, but we finished. We contributed something, left behind some great memories, maybe some family, something that defines a good life lived, he says.
That’s his goal, to leave the world a little better, and he works at that in many ways, teaching, helping others, and also giving — he is known locally for donating his paintings for causes that are important, and many Niagara organizations have benefited from his donations that are sold during fundraisers.
He believes in “having enough,” and if you want more, if you get greedy, you never feel you have enough, he says. He feels fortunate to be retired in NOTL, to have a beautiful home and a good life, and he has enough, leaving him able to help others.
Clavier will have 19 of his oil paintings at the show this weekend, including one called Youth Remains. The wording on the painting, in French, is taken from a song by legendary singer Charles Aznavour, translating to times change, youth
Coming of Age will be at the Royal Henley on Ontario Street Saturday, June 11 and Sunday, June 12 from 10 a.m. to