Anna in the Desert (detail) – Photo courtesy Ted Meyer © 2020
I am an artistic storyteller. I make paintings that tell stories, and I curate art with even stronger narratives. I have a niche--I create work about illness: my genetic illness and the illnesses of others.
I have always been forward-thinking. From the time I was a kid in the hospital, I thought of a future where I might be healthy. I lived for the moment each day, because I didn’t know if there’d be a tomorrow.
Eventually, however, I did get better. Breakthrough medicines changed my life and I started doing paintings free of trauma and illness. I started telling stories of love and happiness. I was finally living in a much better present. The future I had always wished for had arrived.
Acrylic on Canvas 6’X10’,
Still, I felt a tie to illness. Finding my own good health uninspiring, I focused on other people’s scars as a way to tell their stories. How their lives were altered and how they moved forward. How they built futures after being confronted by some horrific past.
I built a library of stories and art that explained the patient narrative, developing a new medical education. I have always wanted to make a difference. Art gave me that chance. I kept looking forward.
But right now, in the midst of this Pandemic, I find FORWARD to be unnerving. I am not sure what all my work, or anything, is for. I try to look forward and I see environmental collapse, humanity teetering on the edge. Prejudices that I thought had passed are popping up again and there are no plans to deal with any of it. Covid has exposed every weak link in our society.
Big Horns, big hoofs.
Acrylic on canvas 4’x7’,
What have I been doing to counteract the mental crush of our systemic collapse? Oddly, I have been painting the happiest painting of my artistic career. Maybe this is because I am isolated in the desert, and the huge expanse of land and sky gives me space to imagine. Maybe the rural quiet lets me think when the noise of the city distracts me. Maybe I just can’t do work about the world ending right now because I need a fantasy to escape to. So while the forests burn and the oceans rise, I’m painting people in love while they magically fly over the desert. I’m painting animal hybrids and people riding oversized lizards. They are colorful and happy, and I have not the slightest idea from where they come from.
I do know these happy paintings are just a bandaid, a mirage of sorts.
Acrylic on canvas 6’x10’,
In these times of plague and tribalism I should be able to find an escape in the art world, but museums are closed. I can’t travel. A Chagall at LACMA, a Lam at MOMA, a Dix in Colon, they are all unviewable. The masterpieces of the art world are out of my reach because of Covid.
The pandemic has intensified my belief that we have no future. It gnaws at me day and night. Since the first Earth Day I’ve heard about the coming ecological collapse. Something needed to be done, and in shorter and shorter increments before it was too late. Fifty years, then thirty years, then ten, and a recent article insisted we have already reached the tipping point. Game over. Even my favorite paintings can’t get me past this feeling of biblical reckoning.
In spite of my fear I paint and try to make a difference with my work. I have moments of severe depression and questioning. What is it all for? But I keep painting. Making art blots out the rest of the world, and gives me some internal silence, at least for a short time.
Ted Meyer, Los Angeles
Ted Meyer is a nationally recognized artist, curator and patient advocate, who through artistic expression, chronicles the courage of people living with a variety of medical conditions. Born with Gaucher disease, Ted’s personal experiences with the condition have served as his artistic motivation – uniquely blending medicine and stories of healing and survival. Ted’s artistry has been featured in the New York Times and The Huffington Post and in 2016 he participated in a TEDMED Talk on the importance of communicating patients’ stories through art and how it can help healthcare providers gain an understanding of their patients’ experiences. Ted is an Artist in Residence at Keck School of Medicine at USC.
This article is part of the MAHB Arts Community‘s “Covid19 Diaries Series”. If you are an artist interested in sharing your thoughts and artwork, as it relates to the disrupted but defining period of time we live in, please contact Michele Guieu, Eco-Artist, MAHB Member, and MAHB Arts Community coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. ~