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By Stacey Hanks–
Updated April 26, 3:09 p.m.-
A split in the road, a descent into darkness, and a really big bush led one Citrus Heights artist to the world stage.
Christine Stein, 36, is the local resident who rapidly gained national and international attention after her portrait of Prince in front of a giant flowering bush went viral earlier this month on Easter, with news stories featuring the blooming mural published around the globe.
After catching up with Stein by telephone and getting to know the woman behind the bush, it became clear that aside from the recent notoriety, there was much more to her art than paying homage to deceased artists. Asking Stein about her past revealed she originally went to school to learn engineering because it sounded like a good career and she “didn’t want to be dependent on a man to take care of me my whole life.”
Stein’s parents were not happy with her choice. “My parents want(ed) me to be a nurse, like every other Filipino,” she said.
Looking back at her days at San Jose State University, Stein said that despite excelling at her studies in engineering, she should have known she was into art back then because all of her engineering projects “were very artistic.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s in engineering, Stein packed up on Christmas Day 2005 and moved to Arizona. “It was too easy, everyone knew me there, I couldn’t grow,” she said of the reason for her move.
Once in Arizona, Stein continued her education by gaining an MBA from Grand Canyon University, and while bouncing back and forth between Las Vegas and Phoenix she embarked upon a very successful career in digital art and marketing, despite her engineering degree.
“I didn’t want to admit to myself that I didn’t want to be an engineer after I had put all that work into my education,” said Stein. “But I just didn’t want to go into a job that was going to eat my soul, a job where I would never see art again. I just loved art.”
In spite of Stein’s success in her career, in 2013 she realized that she had come to love her job so much that she was always at work.
“I realized that I loved my work too much,” she said. “I went two years (working) 7 days a week, no vacation.”
So she quit.
The very next day she was invited to a paint party along with some of her sorority sisters, and despite some initial misgivings, she agreed to go. She started painting and was immediately hooked.
“I was just like, this is so amazing,” recalled Stein. “I was painting hearts, and my sorority sisters they’re all taking pictures and I’m not even looking at the camera, not even paying attention to them.”
Then, in October 2013, on a whim, Stein and her husband David, whom she had met in Arizona, decided to leave the state.
“He quit a job, sold everything; just two dogs and a car and his TV. And we just came up here up I-5.” Where the interstate comes into Sacramento, Stein and her husband had come to a fork in the road.
“We had a decision to make,” said Stein. “Do we go left and continue on another two hundred miles to San Francisco, or turn right to Sacramento?”
Due to a lack of funds, they turned right.
They initially landed in the Pocket/Greenhaven area where they were living in an apartment complex that suffered from mold. Once the mold was treated, she said “that moldy room became my art room.”
The couple later submitted a bid to purchase a home they could afford and settled in Citrus Heights. After the move, her husband was earning enough income for her to just paint and according to Stein it gave her a sense of freedom.
“The thing was I didn’t have to work, and that allowed me to do what I wanted — like when you’re a kid and you don’t have that restriction you can do whatever you want,” said Stein.
Wanting to continue her training in painting but realizing there was nothing available in Citrus Heights for art classes, Stein sought out the Sacramento Fine Arts located in Carmichael. “They taught me how to paint. I used to go every Tuesday during studio time.”
To find inspiration, Stein went on Facebook and asked her friends for suggestions. All kinds of crazy ideas were offered up, finally someone suggested faces. “Ah vanity” recalled Stein, it was faces that caught and held her imagination.
“My husband told me to do what ever I wanted, so when he was asleep I would stay up till 3 to 6 in the morning, just painting,” she said.
It was in 2015 when problems with her eye sight became “extremely noticeable.” At first Stein recalled thinking that she was just rundown.
“I thought I was just tired; I started seeing spots in my eyes, it wasn’t blurry, it was blocked out by large patches of black,” she said. “It was the blackest black I’ve ever seen in my life… at night time I was completely blind and I couldn’t see straight lines anymore, they were all squiggly.”
“I became really sad and I just lost the purpose of life,” said Stein, noting that she also stopped eating. “I just felt helpless, I didn’t know what to do without my sight… I was very confused with how to move on from it.”
Being diabetic, in addition to not eating, caused her to end up in the emergency room where she had her eyes examined. She learned she was suffering from a condition similar to macular degeneration, and was quickly going blind.
“Am I being punished for being too happy?” Stein recalls thinking. “I had never allowed myself to experience art completely and be happy. It was taken away from me; it was helping me heal from all those years spent doing engineering that I knew wasn’t for me.”
Fortunately there was a treatment available for her condition. Stein’s vision was partially restored with the help of a year-long medical treatment that involved injecting colon cancer medicine into her eye while she was awake, to help bulging blood vessels in the back of the eye to recede.
Though she is now legally blind without them, contact lenses and the injections have now afforded her the continued freedom of sight that she almost lost forever. She is now able to inspire others through artwork like the Prince mural in her front yard, which has now likely been seen by millions around the world.
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