A Healing Body of Work

by Carolyn Edlund

Ted Meyer’s art is about the human body – the internal and the external, physical illness, injury, healing and health.

 

woman in wheelchair with scar

“Back Scar Fist Print” by Ted Meyer

 

Born with Gaucher’s disease, a genetic disorder which causes deterioration of the joints and organs, Ted Meyer has endured multiple surgeries and hospital stays since childhood and expressed those experiences in his paintings.

AS:  Your monoprints appear to be very abstract, but they actually reflect a stark reality. Can you explain how they were made and why you started this series?

TM: After being sick from childhood on and doing work about my illness, I found myself much healthier in my mid-thirties. There had been new medications invented and I had had a few bones and joints replaced. The work I had done earlier about my own illness didn’t have such a pull on me anymore.

I spoke with a friend who had been a dancer and was now using a wheelchair after an accident. She insisted that I should still be doing work about ability and health, but maybe I needed to come up with something else to say. She was right – I really had nothing left to say about myself. This dancer had a beautiful back with a long serpentine scar running down the length of it, and I thought I would start a new project with her as my first model.

I had seen photos of other people’s work that dealt with scars, and they were all very direct, very “in your face.” They seemed to say nothing more than “here is a woman with a mastectomy, here is a gun shot wound and this person is disfigured.” I really didn’t want that. I wanted to make beautiful color fields and patterns that people would only know were scars once they got close and read the titles.

As a person who has spent a lot of time in the hospital, and worked with children in hospitals, I know that having a scar isn’t always a negative. It becomes your scar, like a tattoo. I really wanted to take the “ick factor” out of viewing something that most likely had something to do with keeping you alive.

 

"Stage Four Brain Cancer" by Ted Meyer

“Stage Four Brain Cancer” by Ted Meyer

 

AS:  Scars and what they represent can be a highly emotional thing for many people, and in different ways.   What most amazes you about your subject’s stories and their feelings about their scars?

TM: When I first started the project, I didn’t intend it to be a long-term thing. I showed the monoprint of my friend’s scar in a gallery in Beverly Hills. People would approach me and pull up their shirts, or pull down their pants and tell me the story of their scars. Though I had always sold a good amount of my paintings, nothing I had done seemed to touch people like this work. People asked me to print their scars. That was twelve years ago. Every time I show the collection, I get hundreds of people wanting to be my next subject. It is very gratifying.

As for the effect of my art, I think it often is cathartic.  I  hear comments like, “I never thought anything good would come from this scar/car crash/cancer/heart attack.” One women with stage four brain cancer met me at a show and asked to come to my studio the next day to do a print of her head where part of her tumor had been removed. She told me she only had weeks to live and wanted to make art from her scar as a record of it. She died about six weeks later.

AS:  Your current show includes some of your “Structural Abnormalities” paintings, done when you were ill, and the monoprints have photos and details of each subject’s scar. What is the experience you are creating for gallery visitors?

TM: I want to tell a story of a person whose whole outlook on life changed once he became healthier. I show the paintings from that series as a starting point. At that time, I was in a lot of pain with no real future to look forward to, and my work reflected that. Now I am lucky to be alive and have moved past myself. I want to talk about other people and their struggles.

 

"Structural Abnormalities" by Ted Meyer

“Structural Abnormalities” by Ted Meyer

 

AS:  Due to your work with art and the body, you have been given some exciting opportunities. What do you have coming up in your career?

TM: I have recently started giving lectures to patient and medical groups around the country. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at Yale Medical school last year to the incoming students about my medical and artistic journey. I discussed not only how my art reflects my health, but I remind them that each person they treat will remember that moment for years to come. They might see ten hip replacements or cancer patients a week and not think anything of it. The scar work has shown me that a daily occurrence for a doctor can be a life-altering occurrence for a patient. It can be the biggest struggle of their life.

I was also just named the Artist in Residence at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where I will be curating art shows for the medical school by other artists who do work about medicine.

Ted’s scar work, paintings and photos can be seen by visiting his website.  

 

 

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