Nodular Sclerosis is the type of Hodgkin’s disease that consumed my wife Athena’s lymphatic system. These paintings are derived from our journey through the treatment of this cancer. The pill-shaped paintings in the first series explore the inner realm of the body, with forms suggesting the lymphatic system, cells, and nodules. As I worked, fragments of landscape and images of Athena emerged in the paintings.
The plant forms in the work are derived from two sources: the plant-like structure of the lymphatic system, and the plants and flowers in Athena’s hospital room, which I spent hours viewing, especially when I fell in and out of sleep. Other forms allude directly to the treatment process, such as IVs, cells, and abstract forms that symbolize the cure.
The “floating islands” within the paintings express the feeling of isolation that comes with the treatment of cancer. Like many patients, Athena felt that she was alone, that no one knew what she was going through. I also felt alone, because I indeed could not share Athena’s experience. In fact, I was unable to do anything, and most of the time she was on so much medication that she was not coherent, so I was in the hospital room alone with my wife’s body—a body which was on the verge of shutting down. As I sat in the darkness and looked at my wife covered in IVs and blankets up to her neck, my view of her was mainly a profile silhouette of her face. In certain paintings, then, silhouettes of my wife’s body become part of the islands expressing our isolation. By using silhouettes, I am able to create images of Athena that are very specific to her physiognomy, while at the same time I can also make the images generic so that Athena’s image also looks like many other female cancer patients, whom Athena comes to represent.
The later paintings become ambiguous landscapes: though there are clues to elements of landscape in them, they never become clear enough to piece together where the viewer is. These ambiguous landscapes refer to that space where a person goes when, physically and mentally drained and on medication, he/she goes in and out of consciousness, pieces of reality fusing with imaginary visions. Since my paintings became landscapes, I shifted from a portrait to a landscape format in the second series of work. The paintings are in the shape of my living room window. Athena had chemotherapy once every two weeks, always on a Friday. Once I brought her home from her treatment, she did not move from our bed for about five days, recovering enough to function almost normally only on the afternoon of the fifth day. Not wanting to disturb Athena during this recuperation period, I spent a lot of time on our couch in the living room. There I spent hours thinking about everything we are going through; during these reflections, I would look out of our large front window into the sky and watch cloud forms roll past. These cloud forms began to merge with the landmasses I was painting, along with images of Athena, IVs, plants, and cells. The window thus became a portal into this ambiguous space I was trying to paint.