A Lawyer's Head Injury Unveils Hidden Artistic Talents

Artist Patrick Fagerberg with piece from "Embracing the Sublime" exhibit at Gremillion & Co.
Artist Patrick Fagerberg with piece from "Embracing the Sublime" exhibit at Gremillion & Co.
Photo by Mark Reyes

A man walks into a bar, gets hit on the head by a 400-pound camera boom, and emerges almost unscathed. Or so that's what Patrick Fagerberg thought, after his plans to hear the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark went horribly awry in 2011. "I was at South by Southwest for an OMD concert," said Fagerberg, who heard the first note of the guitar before being knocked out. Taken out on a stretcher, he was stitched up and released from the hospital after just 7 hours. "I was happy that my neck wasn't broken," said Fagerberg. "Two days later, I couldn't put sentences together. I knew I was in trouble."

With that single note, the legal career of this successful Austin defense attorney ended and the darkness set in. "I had to grieve my own death. The depression was horrendous," said Fagerberg, who struggled with substance abuse and the loss of his girlfriend and career, eventually turning to cognitive therapy and psychotherapy to deal with the stages of grief.

He remembers one very low point. "I had my gun. It was my last day." His dog never had a habit of getting on the bed, but on this day Eros did. "He breathed in to my ear for 20 minutes," said Fagerberg, as if the dog was breathing the life back into him. Then Eros sat up eagerly, "as if to say 'let's go.' I haven't looked back since."

About a year after the accident, Fagerberg went to one of those "paint and drink wine" venues and "a little switch went off." After only one art lesson he was soon copying the paintings of Van Gogh and Munch. "I was painting 12-14 hours a day; it became a compulsion," explained Fagerberg, who kept the depression at bay through his art. "It was the only time I had peace."

Soon he was producing original works; the early pieces were precisely rendered overlapping parabolas with mathematical connotations. Not only was he prolific, his work also was very good. The reigning theory is that he is suffering from Savant Syndrome, which occurs when the left hemisphere of the brain is damaged, suppressing the natural tendency to reason and make rational decisions. Instead, the right hemisphere takes over, allowing drawing, painting or musical talents to flourish.

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His current works, though still staying in the same blacks, whites and shades of gray, have evolved to fractals and organic forms that appear like slivers of nature on a microscopic slide, though greatly magnified. He prefers to work with acrylic enamel, which leaves a glass-like surface, and moves the paint around with brushes, his hands, the pouring of paint and even blowing the liquid across the surface. "It's almost like blowing energy," said Fagerberg, who feels very connected to the work. "It's a very natural, organic process. It can be cosmic or microscopic."

Ron Gremillion, owner of Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc., heard about his work and visited Fagerberg in Austin, liked what he saw and, by taking him on, virtually offered a lifeline to this emerging artist. The world premiere of Fagerberg's art can be seen in his Embracing the Sublime exhibit through March 13 at Gremillion & Co., 2501 Sunset Boulevard, open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., gremillion.com.

So, from one fateful crash to the head, a painter was born. Another crash, this time when Fagerberg's ex-girlfriend crashed the car into his neighbor, filmmaker Sergio Carvajal, has led to a new friendship and a different sort of artistic pursuit - as actor. Carvajal is working on a short documentary about Fagerberg's transformation from lawyer to art savant, which will include participation by OMD; he also previously cast him in his 2014 production, Tiramisu for Two.

When asked what the future holds for him, Fagerberg replied that he still wants to succeed. "I still want to change people's lives, influence people's lives. It just has to be in a different way now."

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