Young artist’s work hangs in Pilot Tavern during December

Amateur artist and anorexia survivor Alison Paloheimo cites art and fitness as cornerstones to recovery

The Pilot Tavern was full of good art, good food, and good people as Alison Paloheimo hosted her first art show on Dec. 7.

“It was a great turnout. I made a lot of commissions; I’ve been emailing and following up with people non-stop for the past two weeks,” Paloheimo said happily as we settled into a booth at the back of the dimly lit Pilot Tavern at 22 Cumberland street. The blood red walls are decked out in her work: paintings of bears in pen and water colours, or vivid acrylics on canvas. Some are framed with vintage window panes, glass still intact.

Paloheimo rode her bike through all kinds of alleys all over the city on her search for these panes. She credits these panes to her first celebrity buyer.

The first sale was made before the show even opened. Paloheimo had left for the night after hanging up her works with her parents. Canadian musician Hawksley Workman had come into the bar, and it was love at first sight.

When Paloheimo arrived the next evening for her show, Scot Bateman, the manager, told her the news.

“You’ll have to mark that one as sold, a guy was in here yesterday after it was hung, and he wants to buy it,” Bateman recalls telling Paloheimo.

First sell of the show! Wasn’t even here, wasn’t even priced. :) #Toronto #painting #torontoartist #art

A photo posted by AlPaloheimo (@alpaloheimo) on

Paloheimo has been doing art all her life, though not in any serious sense. It was simply something fun to do, until, in early 2012, she was hospitalized for anorexia. Her recovery has two main factors: her art, and her fitness. According to Eisler Espie, psychologist and author of “Focus on anorexia nervosa: modern psychological treatment and guidelines for the adolescent patient” anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder. “Art was super important when I couldn’t really find ways to express what I was feeling,” Paloheimo said. There was a point in her hospitalization when the doctors considered even knitting as too much activity. But she was allowed to do art. To help cope, Paloheimo created a comic style cartoon of a little blonde girl, who was essentially her. The comics depict stories of funny things that would happen in the hospital, or things that were upsetting her, or simply how she felt that day. 

  Guess who? #painting #tbt   A photo posted by AlPaloheimo (@alpaloheimo) on

These comics were her gateway into the art show world.

As Paloheimo recovered, her therapist suggested they include her art in a small gallery in her clinic. Since it wasn’t a show and nothing was for sale, Paloheimo’s father has these little comics framed and hanging around Paloheimo’s childhood home.

“It’s kind of weird, now when you go into my dad’s house, there’s all these comics of this little anorexic girl all over the place,” Paloheimo laughed.

As Paloheimo’s recovery progressed, she became enamored with fitness, and pilates in particular. She currently teaches classes of what has been dubbed “pilates on crack” because of it’s intensity, at Studio Lagree on King Street West.

She has recently branched out into teaching boxing classes, and might be participating in a fight called Brawl on Baystreet, in March. The fitness had a substantial impact on her recovery because it refocused the way she saw and connected with her body. She has shed the incessant need to look a certain way, and dismissed the pressure to fit in. “If I feel comfortable, if I feel strong, if I feel happy, that sort of thing is what matters,” Paloheimo said. Her leaps and bounds in her recovery are significant, but when asked if she thought sharing her story could be helpful to others, she was hesitant. Paloheimo cites the fact that anorexia, and most eating disorders, have no true prescription for their recovery. Every person who struggles with an eating disorder has to find their own path. “Everyone finds their ‘thing’. So a lot of people who have recovered, they’re like, ‘powerlifting is my thing’, or ‘I found singing’, or ‘my boyfriend was super supportive’ or whatever it is, and they try and prescribe it to everyone else.” At a certain point in her recovery, Paloheimo recognized that the never ending therapy and nutrition counselling had gone from essential to a hindrance. She recognized that what she really needed was to get her life back. This is when she fell into art and fitness. “I found my confidence. And then I became, instead of that girl who’s getting better from her eating disorder, I’m like hey, I teach boxing, I do art, I do all kinds of things.” Paloheimo said with a smile.