A Survivor’s Tale
The Hearing of the Word: CANCER
Cancer is word that sticks to the tongue without the sweet taste of honey. It can get in the way of opening doors and can cause unrest. The restlessness can wear a hole in the carpets surrounding the cancer patient or it can incite the patient into frenetic action.
When a good friend of mine came to visit me during my recuperation from removal of one kidney due to kidney cancer, he brought a beautiful set of Windsor Newton watercolors. The wooden box contained a small selection of colors with a porcelain palette. He remembered to bring a small pad of paper.
Something about the convenience of it all, invited me to try it out sooner than later and sitting still was all I wanted to do anyway.
And something about the landscapes of Orkney from my first visit 10 years earlier morphed into my imagination. I pulled out the photographs from that trip and tried a few Scottish landscapes. I liked how the paint moved. I liked the shadows I saw and how the colors merged. My frenetic worry about surviving cancer was calmed with each brush stroke…and time flew.
With each painting, another day passed and my strength and optimism grew. I began to embrace the paint and paper. I began to sing again. And I returned to look at work I had created earlier in my life.
I Will Survive … I rediscovered a particular piece of work that now seemed to reflect the progress of a of a life. Whether it is my personal life of surviving emotional and physical ups and downs, or the life of a culture, or the life of the environment, it doesn’t matter. It is a journey.
I found a pencil drawing of 16 small landscapes, punctuated with verticals and undulating horizons. It was a piece created 6 years before I stepped on the islands of Orkney and before I even knew their name. I looked at the landscapes and it seemed that they hinted at what I would come to love from visiting Orkney. So, I kept looking at my art collection.
The pencil sketches had been created in 1979 after a betrayed engagement. It was a long summer of emotional upheaval and self-loathing. About 10 years later, during my teaching exchange in Scotland, there was a fairy tale romance and marriage to a Scottish bagpiper. My husband encouraged me to put action behind the words "I paint." His first gift to me in New York gave me was just the right easel.
But how could I paint large in a small space? I was inspired by that earlier pencil drawing to create a potentially large piece made up of sixteen 16"x20" smaller panels. The colors I felt while visiting Orkney fused into the original concept and versatility was now added to the story. The late 1980s brought joy back into my life with love, marriage and trust.
Over the next years, boxes filled with these 16 panels followed me to many places. In each place I would ask "How am I going to hang this? Is there a large enough wall?" No wall was ever large enough. I could never figure out just how to manage the carpentry of it all. As my frustration about what to do with these panels festered, something inside me was brewing.
And then in 1994, I got my cancer diagnosis. During my recuperation year, I quietly slipped away with my husband to the place that was the only place I wanted to return to….Orkney. There through tears and exhaustion I climbed a cliff I had climbed 10 years earlier and suddenly pronounced, " I am going to live, but when I die, toss my ashes over this cliff." Those words surprised my husband and I, but I have never forgotten the power of them and the strength it gave back to my living.
I Will Survive …
So in the mid 1990s, I began to plan exactly how these panels might hang like a religious triptych. But life has a way of changing direction. The panels never got to hang together. The festering inside that led to cancer, led to divorce and the piece was stored away.
Life, living spaces and what I am doing continues to change. This is the fourth decade living with this piece. My involvement with art and the creation of larger works is growing. My art has become inexplicably intertwined with repeated visits to Orkney and the development of art workshops on Orkney. A rebirth for this piece is possible and aligns perfectly with new horizons. It was in 1994 that I first heard the diagnosis, cancer.
To view the work, please visit the Gallery "Survivor"