Walk into the Greene County Arts Council’s Catskill Gallery this month, and the breadth of artistic expression on view hits one. This is work of a deeply personal nature. “Cancer Journeys: Expressions of Hope and Transformation,” organized by breast cancer survivor Laura Garramone, features paintings, drawings, photos and testaments from cancer survivors, caregivers, doctors and healers. And care of the Cancer Services Program of Columbia & Greene Counties Health Care Consortium, one of the first things that centers one in this swirl of bravery and strength in the face of challenge is a resource stacked with information on area services to help patients and families affected by this scourge of the day.
At the opening reception for this powerful show – as much about the community and redemptive powers of art and culture as it is about talent and aesthetics – the usual hobnobbing had an added warmth, as those assembled met each other as survivors as well as artists. Folks exchanged anecdotes, health tips, caresses of comfort and deep understanding.
And that was all before any made it upstairs for refreshments and the exhibition premiere of Kingston photographer Charise Isis’ Grace Project images, printed large on silk and filling the Upstairs Gallery like Baroque portraits or sylphs – excepting the fact that the subjects were not only partly clad, but also partly whole, bodywise. Isis’ powerful images – lush yet starkly evocative of medical truths, haunting but clearly of the here and now – come from a project that evolved from her commercial photographic enterprise shooting women’s boudoir images. It’s about the redemptive, free-will elements of body image; and it proves the perfect counterpoint and added statement to the powerful journeys captured downstairs.
“It is my thought that creating art is in some way connected to and occasionally healing to the unconscious mind and psyche,” wrote Garramone. “Through symbolism and understanding we can decipher what is happening inside us.”
As Garramone has noted, the show had its starting point when she saw a traveling exhibition of work by people whose lives have been changed by cancer at her own treatment center, and realized “a therapeutic option for her own recovery… I became aware of the power of color to influence mood, of animals, insects and plants as meaningful totems. People with cancer are left to navigate emotions like isolation, fear, despair and anger, just to name a few. We face our mortality. I believe it is necessary to express these feelings to facilitate healing… I am grateful that I have art as an outlet.”
Downstairs, one finds the sense of waiting and fruitful patience inherent in Melanie Braverman’s embroidered poems: one written and sewn while her mother was undergoing chemotherapy, the other during the sad span between her brother’s diagnosis and death. Candy Systra etches the quiet pangs of grief as it grows to accept what one’s sitting by and through. Others show their works in clay or stained glass, paintings or elaborate drawings, made to aid their own recoveries.
Will Barnd’s acrylic painting End of the Road wasn’t what he thought it would be when he started it: a final statement. An exchange between Kirsten Bates and the late David Montgomery captures the odd nature of acceptance that comes with a recognition of life’s fullness, and the things that suddenly appear, such as brain cancer, to kill us. Meryl Learnihan contributes a painting of llamas and explains how her doctor, who helped her ten years ago, always said how much he loved the animals. Every work carries such meanings, such stories.
“Let’s show people who don’t think of themselves as artists that creativity is a path for processing emotion and experience,” is how Garramone put it, in various conversations, as well as her own paintings’ wall text. “Works can be based around a personal cancer journey or in dedication to that of a loved one. The works in this exhibit show love, hope, emotional struggle, fight, drive and survivorship.”
“Cancer Journeys: Expressions of Hope and Transformation” & Charise Isis’ “Grace,” through November 2, Greene County Council on the Arts Catskill Gallery, 398 Main Street, Catskill; (518) 943-3400, www.greenearts.org.