Posted by: jeanne | October 27, 2008

making art out of breast cancer

after 9/11, i wanted to make art that reflected my feelings on the matter. it was going to be a painting of the world trade center towers on fire, with smoke everywhere, and down at the bottom of the painting, a whole bunch of ghosts running toward the viewer, screaming and flailing.

but i didn’t make it. actually, i got halfway into the painting, despaired of the whole horrible mess, and painted it out. in its place i painted a peaceful scene taken out the window as my plane landed in limerick, and i chose to paint that because i was sick of the angst.

i relate this tale because it was the suicidal depression i fell into at this point that gave me cancer, less than a year later. 

when i first got cancer, i wanted to do art that explored my feelings on the matter.

i did a bunch of abstract paintings, using poured acrylic.

i ony half-mixed the acrylic, so that it flowed in lumps, and used red and blue paint on a white background (until i realized these were nationalistic colors, and i hate flags).

i used a portion of one of the resulting paintings as the masthead illustration. but i soon tired of poured paint. it’s difficult to master, and i wasn’t really interested in depicting what cancer looks like. besides, the pictures scared me, just as pictures of cancer cells scare me. here, look. gross.

i had in my mind to do several actual paintings at that time. one of them was to be a very small me at the bottom of a tall thin canvas, crouching naked on the floor. the background would be sterile white, and above me, crowding the air and floating down to the ground, would be a series of outrageous things i heard while iwas undergoing various doctor visits. things like “don’t worry your head about it,” “we know what’s best,” “trust us,” and various other statements that strip power from wonmen.

the other one i wanted to do at the time involved sacrificing my breast prosthesis and bra. i wanted to cut holes in the canvas and stitch the prosthesis and bra into it, put a mirror where the face went, and invite people to walk into the painting, to feel how it feels to be scarred and yet pretend nothing’s wrong. the other side of the painting would be a fashionable face and a fashionable body, very pinup and sexy. around the back side, where the mirror would be, would go all the cosmetic products that cause cancer, and with them would be a list of the chemicals they contain. beauty’s supposed to hurt, but it’s not supposed to kill you.

i’ve got another idea, as well. i work in silk, and i was thinking of making a canvas of the visible woman, you know, with all the organs showing, and then overlay it with silk panels showing the naked woman, the scarred and deformed naked woman, the culturally acceptable made-up woman, and other versions of the fakeness of our public lives and images.

it seems i’m turning into an activist. there goes my career as a painter of “pretty” pictures.

the thing that bothers me about the cancer industry is that it’s so profitable. when something’s that lucrative, the tendancy is to want to milk it forever, rather than butchering it. so the cancer industry is very happy that more and more people are getting cancer. and more and more people are getting cancer. the cancer rate is rising all the time.

there’s talk of a cure. but that’s bullshit. i’ve been apparently cancer-free for four years now, and people ask me if i’m cured. but it doesn’t work that way. just like taking out a lump doesn’t work, because the cancer is already in your blood system, and just waiting for an opportunity to come back out and thumb its nose at you.

so there’s no cure. but there’s prevention. but that would mean changing the way we eat and what we put on our bodies and what invisible electric fields we subject ourselves to (i’m sitting in a room with 2 computers, a cathode-ray tube for a monitor, and endless wires and peripheral devices, all of which put out a rather toxic level of electromagnetic pollution).

if you want to stop cancer, you’ve got to get the food industry to stop putting poisons into our food, you’ve got to get cosmetic and cleaning agents out of your house, you’ve got to avoid plastics, and you’ve got to stop using all the high-tech gear that nobody’s ever seriously considered cause cancer(including mammograms, cat scans and cellphones).

and that’s not going to happen without a whole lot of people changing the way things are done.

in this benighted world, things are done for profit. there’s massive profit in using cheap toxic ingredients instead of wholesome unprocessed food. there’s massive profit in leasing and charging for radiation-filled medical tests. there’s massive profit in high-tech gimmicks nobody has ever tested. there’s massive profit in chasing cancer symptoms without actually effecting a cure. et cetera.

and this all makes me angry. so i rant in these blogs of mine. which okay maybe someone reads it, but it’s just a rant. why don’t i make art about it?

i read a review in one of those horrible fashion magazines, that i was tearing out pictures of models to use in this one painting i want to do, where someone was talking about artist lara schnitger, and said, “usually when you say ‘craft’ or ‘female work’, the art is kind of dour.” apparantly lara’s work is funny and refreshing. well, i’m afraid the work i want to do is not only dour, but angry. an angry feminist. how new. we want to show her work for sure.

fuck it.

i want to take aim at the consumer industry that poisons us at every turn in the name of profit. i want to destroy the cancer industry because they offer false hope and put blinders on our eyes. i want to implicate the sponsors of various cancer causes because their products are causing cancer, like yoplait and recombinant growth hormones, like coca-cola with its in-bottle production of benzene.

like dow chemical’sinfamous ads saying how good they were for the environment (bringing at the same time, agent orange and continuing to produce ddt even tho it’s banned for use in the states (they sell it overseas, where it comes back to us coating the fruits and vegetables we buy). it’s like ge’s we bring good things to light campaign, ge who polluted the husdon river with pcbs and make electrical firing caps for nuclear weapons. like those oil company ads that say how good for the environment their drilling is.

of course my work won’t be shown, because i would be there only to piss off the sponsors, and we can’t have that, can we. negatively impacts the profits.

bitter? damn right. angry? fuming.

well-behaved women never make history.

but i’m a fucking nightmare, so maybe i have half a chance.


  1. You have the fire, that is for sure.

    Love Renee

  2. […] making art out of breast cancer October 2008 1 comment 4 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: