Posted by: jeanne | November 9, 2008

making art from cancer 2

i’m going ahead with my projects to make art out of my cancer. for other art, see here

first the research. who else is doing cancer art? you may be surprised to hear this, but there are a lot of people out there making truthful, sometimes agonizingly painful, statements about art.

here’s one thing i’m learning. the only place you can tell the truth is in art.

you can’t get up in front of any microphone or camera (except your own – go youtube) and say that the very companies who are supporting the breast cancer cure movement are also selling products that cause cancer.

but you can say it in art.

you can’t decry the cancer medical establishment with their hokum non-cures and their hatred of anything alternative, the vast riches to be made given an endless, increasing supply of victims to fuck with.

but you can detail the connections in art.

you can’t go around showing your scars, feeling your fatigue, skating ever closer to the edge of death (for which you should be admired but are instead shunned).

but people can see all your scars in art.

you can rail and scream, you can have the tantrum you’ve always wanted, you can be sick unto death and still speak your mind in art. there’s no inherent need for politeness.

but then we get into the politics of art. in the 80s when disco, reagan and xians ran things into the ground, it was decided that people shouldn’t have sex, drugs and rock and roll, and we should certainly hide it from the kids. so we became a million more percent puritan. my mom of course blames it on the democrats and particularly that can’t keep it in his pants clinton, but she’s been listening to the fox channel, and we know they lie.

anyway, since the 80s, artists like thomas kinkade have prospered. the nice cutsie art that’s just as inoffensive as it can be. political correctness meant not upsetting anybody, even those with a propensity for being upset. so you couldn’t paint naked ladies anymore, and now we have this horrible over the couch art that is so inoffensive it has no subject. a tree in a field. ooh, i hate it.

but now that we might be entering an age where we actually deal with the issues instead of cutting out more regulations and giving out more money and passing laws to make the protestors shut up. and if that’s the case, then we’ll be seeing more honest art.

so i’m really excited to have resurrected some projects that i abandoned in my despair after i first got breast cancer. because i’m finding that while i can tell a few people about what i’m going thru directly, if i put it into art and have the gall to show my work, i can reach a whole bunch more people. and i think i have something to say, finally.

because breast cancer was the best thing that happened to me. this is to be understood as the most important lesson i have had to learn.

having my girl, and my grandkid, having jim, they’re all wonderful marvelous things to happen with me. but who hasn’t struggled mightily to raise a child?

it’s not supposed to be easy.

the biggest lessons are the hardest ones to learn, cause the most pain and frustration, and take many lifetimes to master. but that’s okay. are you in a hurry? you could just remember – thou art god – and do the thing right the first time. but no, you dawdle, you get distracted, you miss your mark and oops. do it again.

what’s my point here. what i have to say about cancer. dying is close to living. dying is not the be all and end all of life. money means nothing in the grand scheme of things. are you happy? do you love? are you loved? can you avoid being a train wreck and maybe actually help a little?

that’s the important point.

but back to art.

I had to wait until i could free up a mastectomy bra and its prosthesis, but i got it this week, and so now i have the bra, which i’m going to cut a hole in the canvas and stitch it in like reconstructive surgery.

now i need to get a picture of my lovely daughter to use on the front. i have to get her to wear her black bra and something sexy on her lower half, and then i’m going to pose her and photograph her, and then paint her as the front of my canvas. my lovely daughter.

and then i’m going to go around the back of the canvas, put a mirror where the face should be, and invite people to come up and try on being me, with a prosthesis filling one bra cup. (maybe i should put handcuffs on the inside wrists, corresponding to wrist jewelry on the other side.)

the first thing i did after stretching and gessoing the canvas was to make marks where everything had to go. it has to be life sized, because i’m working with a lifesized bra. so i stood up to the canvas and made marks. this wasn’t too successful, so i turned the canvas around so i could see myself and the canvas in the studio mirror. that worked a little better. i got my profile drawn in, which tells me where chin, shoulder, nipple, belly button and pubic mound go. but i wasn’t satisfied with that, so a few minutes later i popped up and pressed my body against the canvas, getting my waist, my nipple, my crotch, my shoulder, chin, hairline, and my eyes nose and mouth. so i’ve got all these marks on blank canvas.

then i put the bra up and drew around it with my charcoal, and then i connected the lines a bit until i had most of an outline. and i transferred these marks to the back.


the place of making marks is a very abstract one. you’re only getting the proportions indicated, with the most economy possible so you have less to erase later.

marks. this whole project has been about measurement. correspondence. putting my life onto the canvas. so of course i’d use actual impressions. of course i’d cut and sew. this canvas is meant to be approached, reached out and touched, poked and squeezed. the texture is a sumbolic part of what i’m trying to say.

because i am telling the truth, making people aware of how it feels to be missing a breast, to have this image that i’m projecting but that my internatl reality doesn’t match. it’s a lot like getting old, when you feel inside as if you’re in your late 20s maybe, but people can’t see you as how you looked when you were that age. they see the ravages of age, like that stupid smarter than botox ad that comes up every time i refresh my mailbox.

i’m painting my daughter on the front side of the canvas, and exposing the real me on the back. she’s not too comfortable with the idea, and hasn’t yet taken the pose and let me photograph her, but i’m going to use her face and figure because they too are a part of myself. (i was looking thru fashion magazines to find the most fake and made-up model, and tdo the face based on that.) but using my kid’s image is ever so much better because she’s a direct reflection of me, and tho she’s beautiful, and will pass for the idealized vapid beauty of the supermodels, her face is more useful than that because it was my face when i was 20. nobody’s going to see my true face in this piece, because it’s a constructed self-portrait. it’s actually a portrait of my daughter, but it’s all about me, and i can be seen in the details and the construction. but when you fit your body into my sillouhette on the back, you see yourself in my face. and that’s a portrait of you.

i’m also using my kid’s portrait because i haven’t painted her in a while, years, and she’s grown up so wonderful that i want to spend time gazing into it. she’s still not going to let me do that, because she stirs at night when i shine a flashlight on her, but i can stare at her photograph all i like. i’m not sure if she’ll want th thing when i’m done with it, but maybe we can cut out the face and frame that for her. with a mriror stuck to the back. hmm.

my daughter acts as the young innocent version of myself, the one you see on the front. it’s the one i’m still screaming out the truth to, even tho she doesn’t hear me. (actually she listens pretty well at this age. it’s just that i’m so fond of repeating myself, figuring she hasn’t gotten it yet.) she’s the young innocent i once was before the rest of my life happened, when i still had all my illusions and the fantasies came out like fairy tales. i never thought it would come out like this. the other side of life and experience. what’s its come to. the things i’ve learned about my self, women, the environment, culture, politics, power.

when i was a girl, i used to draw very stylized people. a circle for a head, the hands either fisted or hidden behind the back, no feet. i drew superman flying, and a girl standing, and various backgrounds. but i drew my peple that way for absolute years. all thru highshchool. it wasn’t until i studied drawing on the right side of the brain that i leanred how to really see, and so how to really draw.

i was thinking about this girl that i haven’t drawn in over 30 years, because the marks i put on the canvas yesterday were so suggestive of the girl i used to draw. it’s as if i was practicing for these breast cancer paintings all my life. and in fact i’m going backwards in my style, because they’re going to be more cartoon than official portrait. at least some of the other ones are. i’m actually going to take time with this painting because it’s my kid. but the others will be more childlike in their execution.

more painting steps as soon as i can get to it. i’m doing so much right now. my kid’s in town, xgiving is coming up, i’m trying to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of november, there are xmas presents to be made.


  1. Jeanne this sound like it will be an incredibly moving piece of art. How can people not be moved with our cancer. Especially if they have to see it.

    Doing your daughter as really doing a part of you is both lovely and sad.

    Good luck and I hope to see it.

    By the way I have been writing a bit for awhile on the innocence and how it has changed so much, just haven’t posted it yet.

    If you can or want to can you explain how cancer has ‘been the best things that ever happened to you’ It has given me nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    Take care and enjoy your daughter and grand baby.

    Love Renee

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