This is the first Artist Spotlight I am doing that will feature artists participating in the Invisible:VisAble exhibition. Every couple of weeks I will introduce you to one of the participants, give a little information about them, and include some information they provide me with about their art, challenge(s), what they are working on...I have left it up to the artists what they would like to include! Please do leave comments; we would love to hear what you have to offer!

Invisible:VisAble Artist Spotlight

Kathy Abernathy Meliopoulos

Invisible Disabilities: Pectus Excavatum or Funnel Chest; Spasmodic Torticollis or Cervical Dystonia

Kathy is working on several new pieces for the exhibition. She talks here about the apron series, and the challenges that led to the creation of these art works.  Learn more about her art works on her website at www.kmeliopoulosart.net

Apron Drawings

“I started working with chamois leather many years ago. It was a vehicle for making art related to things "under my skin". These were personal pieces that were sometimes memoir oriented. The black aprons serve as a substrate- a context signifying a woman's work uniform and protective cover.

I have a malformation of the sternum known as Pectus Excavatum or Funnel Chest. It manifested gradually and was diagnosed when I was ten years old. I had major surgery to attempt to correct it when I was fifteen. The surgery was partially successful. This condition causes a concave depression in the middle of the chest that in turn presses on the heart and lungs. It is cosmetically abnormal and can cause heart murmur, difficulty breathing and exercising. There is simply less room in the chest cavity for the heart and lungs to fully expand.

Teen Heartbreak Apron is about the psychological effects of funnel chest. When I was a young teen I became very conscious of my physical appearance. I did not want anyone to see the dent in my chest and was always avoiding bathing suits, etc. I read Romance comics and used to draw my own comics in the style of Teen Heartbreak Apron. Like all young girls, I was trying to figure out the dating world, boys - the usual stuff. However, in looking at the future I was terrified that nobody would ever find my body attractive. Even after the surgery, I still have a significant depression and a horizontal scar all the way across my chest. The surgical procedures are much more advanced now but patients often have to have the surgery repeated. Teen Heartbreak apron expresses the fears I experienced as a young teen. The milagros charm (miracle) represents a wish for a healthy heart (organ) as well as finding love someday.

Empathy Apron is a tribute to Frida Kahlo. It shows her many corsets and casts used to stablize her spine after surgery. I have always admired her as an artist who faced a lifetime of physical pain and yet continued to create meaningful, beautiful paintings in spite of her disabilities. One of the panels shows a female with funnel chest. We share a love of art and a disability located in the torso. The milagros chosen for this apron symbolize that empathy. This empathy can be expanded to include  sensitivity to others with disabilities as well.

I am now working on a third apron. It will be a "perfect torso". I am thinking of the spectrum of what we consider to be perfection, normal and disabled. None of us is perfect, we all fall somewhere in between.”

Spasmodic torticollis is an extremely painful neurological movement disorder that causes the neck to involuntarily turn to the left, right, upwards and/or downwards. Symptoms include pain, tremor, head tilt and turn, jerky movements or an involuntary sustained prolonged position. Symptoms can worsen while patient is walking or during periods of increased stress. There is no cure but symptoms can be managed with medication and injections of neurotoxin into the neck muscles every three months.

My neck muscles are constantly active and pulling my neck and head into undesired positions. Every waking minute is spent managing this activity. My balance is off, my head tilts so I see everything at a slight angle. I can only work on my art for about 2-3 hour increments because I have to recline and rest my neck muscles periodically in order to resume an upright position. The injections minimize the spasms by weakening the muscles, which in turn makes it harder to hold my head up. When I was first diagnosed, I did a drawing reflecting my feelings. My art is a filter that reflects my life experience. With this condition it is difficult to engage in a simple conversation (I must position myself to accommodate the direction my neck will turn) pose for a photo (can't hold my head still for more than a minute or two). This makes socializing at openings and events very difficult. The symptoms worsen with stress, so it becomes a vicious cycle. The isolation of being a studio artist is helpful in that I can work in private and set my own schedule and pace. The beautiful thing is that when I am painting or drawing I forget about my impairment because my brain is otherwise engaged. Creating art is vital to me because it overrides my hidden disability.”

 

 

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