A Painting with a Story:
The Sea is My Brother - The Story of John Daly
"John's journey embodies the spirit of resilience, bravery, and redemption, reminiscent of the captivating narratives that graces the silver screen."
Hailing from 1980s Florida as a young Jewish individual, John found himself entangled in the world of anti-racist activism, only to be forcibly drawn into the ranks of one of the biggest neo-Nazi organizations of America.
The trajectory of his life took a dramatic turn when his concealed Jewish heritage was unveiled, leading to a vicious assault by his former comrades who left him for dead in the Atlantic Ocean. Miraculously, he survived and subsequently took the stand in court, testifying against those who had attacked him.
From that pivotal moment onward, John has dedicated himself to inspiring change and fostering a more inclusive and compassionate society. As a sought-after motivational speaker, he traverses the globe, sharing his extraordinary journey with diverse audiences. His engagements have spanned from Israel and Northern Ireland to various corners of Europe and the United States, where he has addressed intimate gatherings as well as crowds numbering in the thousands. John possesses a unique ability to bridge divides, bringing together individuals in conflict, whether it be Arabs and Jews in Israel, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or mixed assemblies of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Humanists across Europe.
Yet, John's mission is not without its perils.
In an era marked by escalating violence, intolerance, and hatred, he knows that every time he boards a plane, he faces the potential threat of attacks from the very extremist groups that once sought to end his life.
Nonetheless, he remains steadfast in his resolve, driven by an unwavering belief that change is worth fighting for. He implores others to join him in this endeavor, encouraging acceptance, community engagement, and a commitment to making the world a better place.
From Story to Exhibitions
An inspiration took root when John Daly made his journey from Israel to Belgium in recent years to share his compelling story with schools and diverse audiences. As I closely followed the evolution of his narrative, I witnessed John's unwavering determination, even in the face of a brain tumor. During the Summer of 2021, he made his way, every single day, to a modest workshop where saxophone artisan Karel Goetghebeur provided him with the opportunity to learn the saxophone.
Karel Goetghebeur stands as the proprietor and driving force behind the globally renowned Belgian saxophone brand, "Adolphe Sax & Cie."
As you can see in the upper right corner of the painting above, a haunting image emerges—a figure adrift, battered and left for dead in the unforgiving waters of the Atlantic Ocean. John Daly's harrowing ordeal unfolds before us, a relentless assault that inflicted both physical and unseen wounds. The brutality of this attempt on his life set in motion a slow, hidden torment—a bleeding in his brain, culminating in the discovery of a brain tumor years later.
The subsequent surgeries, undertaken in a desperate bid to save his life, cruelly robbed John of his ability to create music.
A Remarkable Twist Emerges
However, within this tale of adversity, a remarkable twist emerges. Karel Goetghebeur finds a resurrected Nazi Saxophone. A symbol of darkness and hatred, became the unlikely vessel of John's resurgence.
He embarked on a seemingly impossible journey, determined to learn the Nazi saxophone in the workshop of Karel. The melody that John painstakingly learned to play emerges from the work of George Gershwin, a Jewish composer whose lyrics resonate with poignant longing: "Come to papa, come to papa do, my sweet embraceable you."
This music, a fragile bridge between past and present, weaves through John's journey, a tribute to resilience and the enduring power of art.
"In a gesture of solidarity and encouragement, I created a first painting depicting George Gershwin as a tribute to John's remarkable journey. The culmination of these efforts transpired on the rooftop of the Dossin Kazerne in Mechelen, where John's saxophone echoed its soulful notes.
Fueled by the profound impact of John Daly's story, I recognized its transformative potential, yet it seemed to lack the momentum required to truly resonate with a wider audience. It was then that I embarked on a creative journey of my own, envisioning a monumental 2.46-meter-long painting that would encapsulate John's resolute saxophone performance amidst the tapestry of his life, as well as the lives tragically lost during the Second World War.
With only a scant few euros left in my bank account, I scrounged together enough to purchase two substantial tubes of paint—blue and white, the very same hues I had used in my initial George Gershwin painting. The challenge before me was immense, for I keenly felt the weight of history's gaze upon me, the collective eyes of war victims observing my every brushstroke.
In those moments of doubt and struggle, John served as a beacon of encouragement, assuring me that the spirits of those who had endured unspeakable hardships were, in fact, cheering me on. Projects like this one offered a glimmer of hope, a testament to our commitment to remember and honor the past. They reinforced the powerful message that we have not forgotten."
The Heart of the Painting
As we further study the painting, we find a circle of protection surrounds John's head, a powerful representation of divine intervention in the face of unimaginable hardship. His story stands as a testament to the transformative potential of adversity—a journey from despair to blessing.
In the heart of the painting, an endless corridor materializes—the haunting passage of Terezin concentration camp. This corridor bore witness to the suffering of over 150,000 Jews, forever etched in history. In solemn tribute to those lost, MR SEPPE's strokes encircle John, guiding the souls, as they ascend towards heaven, returning to their eternal home.
The final element of the painting introduces us to the statues of Yad Vashem. At its center stands Janusz Korczak, a figure of remarkable courage who presided over an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto. When the shadows of persecution descended, he chose not to flee but instead marched alongside 200 children under his care to the abyss of Treblinka. The physical statue in the Yad Vashem Art Collection bears a poignant symbol—a missing arm, a testament to the inability to shield them completely from the horrors of their fate.
Beneath the children's feet lies a series of "unfinished" pencil drawings, a symbol of our perpetual obligation to confront and combat hatred in all its forms, reminding us that our work in forging a more tolerant world is a journey without end.