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.

Horizon IIIOne 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:

Bad News

Completely Batty

Slime Mold

Low-Temperature Semiconductivity

Gretchen Feldman died November 9, 2008, approximately one year after her diagnosis.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. Hauntingly beautiful. They are all so different. I’m sure the art comforted and helped her deal with the physical and emotional pain she was going through.

  2. I live in Baltimore and AVAM is absolutely one of the best museums in the city. I don’t recognize these works though, they must be part of an exhibit that’s new since the last time I was there. Time to go again!

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