From self-described “skateboard punk” to accomplished artist, Kyle Bowen has steered through obstacles that could have brought his future to a screeching halt.
He admits that, as a teenager, his life was all about skateboarding.
“I wasn’t a great person — smoking, drinking and stealing,” Bowen said.
Then, at 17, his skateboard collided with a parked car and the Point Loma native suffered severe head injuries.
After the accident, he said he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, easily influenced by “conspiracy theories,” with life becoming challenging, confusing and frightening.
“It wasn’t a fun time,” he said.
And his mother, a holistic practitioner, couldn’t account for Bowen’s drastic downward spiral until she finally heard about the accident from a friend of her son’s. Bowen admits he never confided in his mother about the crash because he hadn’t been wearing the required helmet.
Once she had the missing link to explain Bowen’s behavioral changes, thermal imaging of the brain revealed he has suffered extensive left-side brain damage.
Bowen credits his mother’s holistic medicine, as well as a birthday paint set — and a copy of Carl Jung’s “Man and His Symbols” given to him by his grandmother — for starting the healing process.
“Art has always been fun for me,” Bowen said. “But after I had a traumatic brain injury, I began using art as a form of therapy to heal my brain.”
Along his path to healing, he became a student and volunteer at ARTS-A Reason To Survive in National City. The nonprofit uses innovative arts-based programs to heal, inspire and empower children facing everything from mental, emotional and behavioral challenges to chronic or terminal diseases.
The center includes a music room, media-arts lab, performance space and ceramics, printmaking and mixed media and painting studios, and a gallery to showcase and sell the students’ work. According to the group’s mission statement, “We use all forms of art as a vehicle to create positive, long-lasting change and transformation in children and youth facing major life challenges.”
“I learned a lot of cool things at the ARTS center, including painting murals and backdrops for music festivals. I even did a backdrop for the band Railroad Earth,” he said.
The center, which provides college and career readiness, has helped Bowen sell some of his artwork.
Now 24, he’s building a clientele for his intricate mandala artwork, having sold paintings to people as far away as Florida and Australia.
A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. Used for meditation and made up of repetitive geometric patterns in the form of concentric circles, a mandala can be a symbol of the effort to reunify the self.
“Some people like to think of it as spiritual,” Bowen said, pointing to his colorful creations. “I do it just because I like to do it … The ideas for the patterns just come to me. [The designs] kind of make themselves.”
He believes the circular shapes, repetitive patterns and balance helped realign his damaged brain and improve his cognition.
“It took four or five years to get back to my ‘new normal,’” he said. “I still have moments when I forget things.”
But he believes he has become “a nicer person” since he traded his skateboard for a paintbrush.
He spends hours painting with acrylic on canvas and even on beach rocks, hoping to turn his one-time therapy into a lucrative career.
“I hope it’s my career,” he said. “Maybe I could do just this. I’ll give it another year or two.”
For now, he lives with his family and doesn’t have to pay rent. But he said he helps with groceries, pays bills and has spending money from the sale of his artwork.
His intricately painted rocks — of which he estimates he’s painted about 400 — run from about $25 to $100. His paintings range from about $600 for a 20-by-20-inch to $1,500 for a 36-by-36-inch.
Bowen recently showed off his artwork on the “Today” show and sells his paintings on his website, ArtworkByKyleBowen.com.
“It’s cool that my parents are proud of me today,” Bowen said.
He said it’s ironic that “the injury from skateboarding led to me this,” and expressed pride in his own paintings, too.
For more information on ARTS-A Reason To Survive, located at 200 East 12 St. in National City, call (619) 297-2787.