By Hollie Grace James
In the face of adversity, Paul Knoll’s motto is to keep on going. After retiring from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 2016, the 48 year-old Kitchissippi resident has been steadily building accolades in his art career. In addition to a successful local show two years ago, a variety of his murals now adorn the neighbourhood.
While he enjoys the leisure of retirement very much, Knoll prefers to keep himself busy with volunteering and art. He spent a decade as one of the top volunteers for the now defunct, annual summer event Westfest. In May 2018, the Dovercourt Recreation Centre featured his acrylic paintings, which can be described as folk-style, at a well-attended vernissage. Dovercourt then requested that he paint a mural on the centre’s outdoor pool, which now features his signature bright colours in an uplifting landscape.
Word of Knoll’s talent is starting to spread. Recently, a Westboro neighbour, Nick Aplin, commissioned a mural on his Byron Avenue home’s garage.
“He’s a really lovely man who invites Paul for coffee on a weekly basis. He’s such a sweet man and he wanted Paul to do this project for him,” said Helen Ries, Knoll’s sister.
Knoll’s style radiates positivity and his newest artwork doesn’t stray from that, featuring a rainbow, bumblebee and sunflowers. Although the three-week project came to a halt when Knoll dislocated a hip, he’s currently on the mend, and he looks forward to finalizing the work in the near future.
Knoll spent his childhood in Wellington West on Caroline Avenue, later moving to the Westboro area in 1994. Ries lived for some time in Toronto, but she’s recently relocated to the neighbourhood to live with Knoll after their parents passed. While he admits that a diagnosis of Down syndrome hasn’t made his life easy, Knoll’s surrounded by a community that embraces difference, instead of pathologizing it.
Ries explains that her brother was always an artistic person and that there’s emotion behind each of his works.
“Certainly, how he’s feeling, and how he sees the world comes out in his art,” said Ries. “[There are] a lot of bright colours and he’s very positive, so his paintings [reflect that].”
But, the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for Knoll.
“I’m sick and tired of it!” he said. “It’s pretty hard for everybody in the whole neighbourhood out there, and I don’t know what’s going on.”
Knoll relies on the local non-profit LiveWorkPlay to support his independent lifestyle. COVID-19 has presented challenges, but the staff who work with Paul have used a combination of online support and safe in-person interactions to continue their role. This has included assistance with his commissioned art projects. Ron Kok, the LiveWorkPlay team member who has been most involved in supporting these efforts, said assisting Knoll with his art was “one of the highlights” of his summer.
During the pandemic, Ries said that Knoll has been spending a lot of time helping around the house by cooking, keeping things tidy and doing laundry.
He’s also been studying poetry through the local program Dragonfly, which is devoted to learners with Down syndrome.
As an active member of the community, you may have spotted Knoll at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) bike ride, Art in the Park or the Farmers’ Market, although he worries about the cancellation, and unknown fate, of such local events.
These days, Knoll is receiving an abundance of positive feedback on Facebook and admits that he’s on his way to a high-demand status. There are no big plans for the time being — Knoll simply hopes to continue pursuing the many things that bring him so much joy.