I Will Tell You About it Later, 30" x 30", acrylic on canvas, 2019
On June 19, 2015, I headed to the gym. My wife, Lynn, was on a business call, and I didn’t say “Bye,” as I normally would have. The plan was to warm up on the treadmill, and then hit the weights. Shortly after getting on the treadmill, my right foot felt like it was moving slowly. I looked at it, and it looked fine, but it kept getting slower and slower. I had the presence of mind to turn off the treadmill, and I called to the woman two treadmills over. I asked her to call someone because I was having a medical emergency. Those were the last words I would speak for about 20 days. I held on to the treadmill until help arrived. I heard voices. I heard Lynn in the background. The paramedics said they needed me to lie down. I wanted to tell him my foot was stuck, but nothing came out. I was semi-aware of going to the hospital. I was unaware of much of what happened in the emergency room.
I had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke (a bleed) on the right side of my brain. The bleed was idiopathic, meaning there was no known cause. My prognosis was guarded. I could not speak, but I hastily invented yes and no hand signals, which were intermittently accurate. I was unaware of the right side of my body. I could not eat, and I was often unaware of what was happening. Looking back, I only remember one person in the nine-day hospital stay. During that stay, I often felt like a needy infant. Other times I felt like the adult I was, albeit helpless.
After the hospital stay, I went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), the world’s leading rehabilitation hospital. Recovering from a stroke includes long-term goals in physical, speech and occupational therapy. There are cognitive limitations, and psychological impairments. Because I was an artist, I wondered if I would ever paint again. I was given the opportunity at RIC, but it was awkward to hold my brush with my left hand. As a working artist, I felt like painting was a wasteful use of my time when I could be practicing language skills and relearning how to walk.
That was nearly three years ago, and I am very happy to say, that although I have not recovered use of my right side (and I was right-handed), I have been able, through a committed rehabilitation process, to return to my studio … and, boy, do I have a lot to say.
It was necessary to change my medium from encaustic to acrylic. My previous artist statement had compared the impermanence of street life to the impermanence of our lives. This new artist statement is the beginning of this next chapter of my life. Now I feel compelled to paint about my recovery, about the people to whom I owe my thanks, about the life I could have lost and about the stories that have happened — some funny, some sad and all life-changing.
My new work is characterized by large swaths of white. Silence. Stillness. White. Trapped with no way to communicate. My use of color speaks to the frustration of having no way to respond. It speaks to the many experiences I had during my recovery from stroke process. Finally, my use of lines is my commitment to recover and to never give up. Try. Again.