SALISBURY – In November Mike Ploplis made his lifelong dream come true and decided to make art a full-time business.

The Salisbury-based painter spent almost 30 years as a paramedic. He started in 1992 as a firefighter and paramedic in Miami.

“I didn’t want to be a paramedic. I loved being a firefighter, ”said Plplis.

But the service he worked with aimed to have an ambulance driver in each unit. He reluctantly went to a two-year program north of Miami and found he enjoyed it. It turned into a lifelong learning experience, although he briefly left the profession in the early 2000s due to burnout before returning as a paramedic in Guilford County.

He said reaching a new stage of burnout and work-related trauma prompted him to quit the profession again and become a full-time artist at age 55.

“My art is directly linked to my experiences that I have encountered as a paramedic over the years,” Ploplis said. “I’ve reached a point, it’s now five years, where I experienced depression, I experienced anxiety and I see a correlation with events that took place while I was a paramedic. Some of them were quite tragic.

When Ploplis switched to a flying program over three years ago, he anticipated more stressful situations and conditions. He was happy to have the art to help him through difficult times, but he said the environment had taken its toll. He carried out 498 missions.

One incident that marks him is a tragic case where a child was hit by a car on the first day of school while riding a bicycle.

“The efforts of those who got to the scene first were quite remarkable,” Ploplis said.

He also did not expect the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people he saw on calls were intubated and had vital functions such as their blood pressure and heart rate maintained by several medications.

“It’s a multi-system failure situation,” Ploplis said.

Initially, the anxiety of meeting people with COVID-19 was greater due to the unknowns.

“We had to take these people out, move them systematically, in close proximity all the time and have to blindly believe that our PPE was going to work,” Ploplis said. “And two that we’re going to be able to maintain exposure to others while we move these people. And then we’re going to load them in the back of a helicopter that’s equivalent to the size of a big SUV in the back.

He was driven to focus on something other than paramedical medicine. He began to focus on the passion that has been a constant all his life: art.

He began to paint at every opportunity at home. He installed a small part of the helicopter hangar to be painted.

“It really helped me deal with a lot of the negative emotions that I was feeling as a result of work-related stressors,” Plplis said. “It allowed me to exercise my ideas.

People started to notice what he was doing after he started posting his work on social media platforms. A partner at work suggested that she start documenting her work on TikTok. So he created an account and accumulated more than 5,000 subscribers. Plplis said he’s not good at social media, but that might make him more endearing.

“Word started to get around, people started asking me questions about my paintings and how great they were,” Ploplis said. “I started to make sales.”

The money from those early sales was reinvested in materials to make more paintings on a larger scale. Now he has built a following through his friends and word of mouth. The one-piece painting, an 87-inch-wide painting titled “Tattered,” has been documented on TikTok.

Lynda Replogle, an interior designer from Savannah who befriended Ploplis via social media, bought “Tattered” before it was finished.

Replogle has always been interested in the arts, studied art, and has been a collector since the 1970s. She tries to give artists good feedback and buy art when she can to support people who are trying to make a living from it.

“His art is very colorful,” Replogle said. “When I look at his art, it makes me feel an emotion. “

She never expects to get responses from the people she follows, but she seems to have made an impression on Ploplis. Replogle said that each of his pieces is surprising and that, thanks to social media, people are getting a glimpse of how he creates his pieces.

“It starts with looking one way, then he does something about it and it all changes,” Replogle said, adding that she was drawn to the visual impact of her work.

Plplis’ work is essentially abstract. Some of his pieces have recognizable images: a horse, a giraffe, a symbol of peace. But most of them are colored abstractions. He also has a penchant for one-word titles describing the emotional states depicted in his work – “lost”, “surrender” and “fear”.

His first solo exhibition opened at Rail Walk Studios and Gallery on November 6 and remained until the end of 2021. Replogle attended the opening to see “Tattered” on display.

She remembers telling him about a piece in his exhibition that he painted after having to tell a family that their loved one had passed away.

“It was the kind of thing he had to deal with on a daily basis and he used his art to help it survive emotionally,” Replogle said. “I could never do something like that.

Replogle said Ploplis is so humble that he doesn’t recognize how good he is.

Plplis’ longtime friend Sharon Campbell said he was her worst critic. The Campbells knew Ploplis because Sharon worked with his wife. He also tiled their kitchen over ten years ago.

“He was always an artist,” she said.

Campbell said the family had watched him progress over the past few years and the family owned the first coin he sold. Her husband watched Plplis work on the play and understood that he had a real talent.

“It’s amazing to see how much he has grown as an artist and to see this talent emerge as he kind of let himself be experimented and understood what his talent is and being able to do it. bring life, ”Campbell said.

Campbell commissioned a piece from Ploplis to represent one of his favorite places – standing by the water’s edge at the beach and watching the sand wash away with the tide.

“He recreated this for me,” Campbell said. “It’s really, every time I watch it I’m going to find something new about it. This is something that I’m going to find different focal points on. It really makes me feel like I’m walking the beach and making it part of my everyday life.

This dream was long overdue, Ploplis, 55 years old. Her professional career began in newspapers. He was hired as an artist and photographer for The Berkeley Democrat, a defunct weekly newspaper in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina. He did collage, courtroom sketches, and newspaper photography.

He landed the job as a junior in high school after winning an art competition with a portrait he drew in pencil. One of the judges was the newspaper’s editor. They met months later and he was offered a job.

There he discovered the production side of the business and went on to work for the News and Courier, a Charleston daily and its evening edition before the two were combined. He stayed there for almost two years, but then enlisted in the Marine Corps. He did his military service because he was rejected by all the colleges he applied to.

“And I should have been,” Plplis said. “I was probably a poor student at the limit.”

He was bored and didn’t attend school, but didn’t blame anyone other than himself. The majority he applied to were art schools.

In the Marines, he was based in Washington, DC, as a Presidential Support Navy. He wanted to serve as a combat photographer and that was his initial lead, but in training camp he was convinced to serve in Washington while Ronald Reagan was in office.

He spent four years in the service and was released in 1990. He subsequently began his career as a firefighter and paramedic.

Becoming a paramedic is the height of the profession, it comes with more stress, but most professionals would say “yes” if asked if they wanted to take the job.

“It’s a cool job,” Plplis said, adding that he always wanted to do it.

He said this is a slightly larger scope of practice that requires more certifications. Flight paramedics have more freedoms and abilities in practice.

“You need to have additional training in critical care management and transportation,” Plplis said.

He said art started to become a full-time activity while he was in the air. He just kept his head down and pushed himself to keep creating. Now, he says, it’s the first time he’s felt he can create art that people love and want to support.

“I feel like at this point, right now at this time, I should pay attention to the opportunity given to me instead of listening all the time to other people telling me that I can’t, ”Ploplis said. “I have more confidence in myself than I can, and I already have it. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone else. I have proven to myself that I can do it.

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