Gretchen Feldman’s Cancer Paintings
Last week on a trip to Washington, D.C, I took a little excursion up to Baltimore. Once I was done claiming everything I saw was from The Wire, I visited the American Visionary Art Museum. I highly recommend visiting if you find yourself nearby — the museum was inspired by art-therapy work the founder did with patients in a mental hospital and solely features art created by non-professionals.
One exhibit that struck me was that of Gretchen Feldman, a textile conservator from Baltimore who moved to Martha’s Vineyard when she retired. She painted every day during that time, creating about 2,000 watercolor, acrylic, and mixed-media works in 30 years. Her watercolor landscapes were what really drew me — rather than the pastel tones and ample whitespace that makes me usually think of watercolors, hers were vivid and saturated with color.
When she was 73, Feldman was diagnosed with lung cancer. Fittingly, she dealt with the news through art: the artist began researching cancer cells and seeking out pictures of what they looked like under a microscope. And then she started painting.
Rather than evoking the peaceful scenes and fiery sunsets of Martha’s Vineyard, these new works were eery and dischordant — even ugly. Check out a few of her works during this period:
Gretchen Feldman died November 9, 2008, approximately one year after her diagnosis.