With much anticipation, I began my most recent project "SHIFT : one hundred paintings" as a way to shake up my traditional routines and approaches to my art. I had a well thought out plan for research, experimentation and exploration of techniques and concepts.
As life sometimes does, it had another plan. Two weeks into my studio work I collapsed at home and an extended illness followed. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease; a result of nerve damage from a virus which affected the vestibular system of the inner ear. One day I woke up with a ringing and within a few weeks lost the the hearing in my left ear. This was followed by more bouts of vertigo which became stronger and longer lasting as time passed. The October episode began very unpredictable episodes of vertigo which made it impossible to leave my house. Episodes lasted 3-8 hours and the only means of movement was crawling. Of course, all was accompanied by nausea and this very strange and most vulnerable feeling that the left side of my head was open. It amazed me that the micro sized vestibular system could so trick your mind into thinking you were somewhere totally different in space than you actually were.
When the October episodes began I already felt like I had lost so much to this disease in the previous two years. I made a decision that I had to do art whatever my state was and was determined to continue the one hundred painting project. Everything about my life had changed but it felt as if I was somehow holding on to life by being able to make art.
I knew I would have to make adjustments. I worked at my easel with a chair to steady me, keeping at least 2-3 feet away or sat on the floor. Often I had double vision and the normal shifting over a visual field like a canvas triggered the vertigo so I worked for short periods of time, closed my eyes for 15-20 minutes then worked again. I could not shift my eyes back and forth or up and down so I painted small sections at a time, closed my eyes, then backed up and took in the whole. It was a very different way to work and I had to train myself to no longer scan the image. I worked at all hours taking advantage of the time between episodes.
The dysfunction of the vestibular system demanded a new way of doing things and my one hundred painting project became an unintended journey to abstraction. I made a lot of crap and pieces that will never see the light of day, however, there was another side of this coin. For me, at times it was a magical experience, painting from a place that was so different than anything I have done before. This project also provided an oasis from the smallness that life had become.
Just like my life, my art is not the same. Something has changed. I had no idea that this project would become about so much more than a few paintings. I am far enough on the other side to see that there is a gift in whatever comes our way. Perhaps its neither good nor bad, but just what life is. I am grateful.
UPDATE: After two surgeries and extended physical and vestibular therapy I no longer have episodes of vertigo and am returning to life as I knew it.