Because the takeaway message that goes with my Chicks portrait of Phoebe is so important, I shall begin with it.
Perhaps these health warnings, coupled with the unorthodox pose (even for Chicks) will give you a clue as to Phoebe’s struggle…and her strength.
Four years ago, Phoebe was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
|Phoebe, Surrounded by all these grandmothers by Judy Takács
She volunteered to pose with a concept in mind that was definitely outside the box…ahem…bottomless, with balls.
No stranger to creativity, Phoebe Marie Nelson, a fine artist, assembles exquisite collages where classical figures are composed with geometric shapes that radiate, point, circumvent and target.
After hearing the excruciating details of her cervical cancer story, I saw the brilliance of her art, and how very clearly it expresses the beauty and the beast of her cancer treatment.
When Phoebe posed, her cancer had successfully been beaten into remission with targeted radiation. She described the procedure as an Erector Set being built inside her body to aid in the precision placement of radiation…a landing pad, if you will, for the lengthy barrage of stealth missiles of radiation that were sent to eliminate the cancer.
The cancer attack mission was effective. The collateral damage, however, left her with side effects that included continued destruction of surrounding tissue. Pelvic Radiation Disease was the first major problem, which was treated with the 40 consecutive days of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments. She subsequently developed, an autoimmune condition called Lichen Sclerosus and even sustained vision loss (the glasses in the third portrait are new to Phoebe.) And, because she was rushed to emergency treatment after years of severe gynecological symptoms went undiagnosed by doctor after doctor, the choice to harvest eggs and potentially have children at a later time, was taken from her without discussion.
I had only known Phoebe through mutual friends, when she volunteered to pose. After some discussion about balls, and her unorthodox concept, she chose a glowing green glass ball that radiated amazingly beautiful, other-worldly green flecks of light. The metaphorical reference to her radiation treatment struck me with full force once I began to paint these alien colors on her thighs.
So, why the hundred grandmothers?
When I begin a Chicks posing session, there’s an ice breaker time period. Sometimes, even if the model and I have been bonding over quite personal topics for hours, as soon as the top comes off (or for Phoebe, the bottom) and the balls come out, there’s a little inhibition, and it’s my job to make the model comfortable.
Even before I met Phoebe, I knew that I’d want to explore the beautiful narrative tattoo collection covering much of her body. As we talked about the meaning of the words and pictures, I sensed her spiritual connectedness with all things in this world. I asked her if she’d ever visited Lilydale, NY a town of spiritualists and mediums which I’d heard of but never visited myself.
Her eyes lit up immediately, and suddenly her poses were natural, animated and alive. She explained that she had visited spiritualists in Lilydale on several occasions.
The Lilydale website defines a spiritualist as, “One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and live their lives in accordance therewith.”
The spiritualist she communicated with told her she saw “all these grandmothers” in her aura. Realizing that she had indeed been surrounded by wise women from different generations her whole life, she took inspiration from that knowledge and had two tattoos created. Her right foot says, “All these Grandmothers” and on her left foot is written “You'll never walk alone.”
The concept of the hundred grandmothers resonated with me as well, and is very much in keeping with the whole Chicks with Balls concept; wise women, working behind the scenes to protect, serve and comfort those they love…creating a karma of goodness that is paid forward.
I used “Surrounded by a hundred grandmothers” as my title, and inspiration for the triple portrait of Phoebe. Repeating her image three times implies that she is also protected by her own strength, wisdom and resilience.
And, anecdotally, the hand of the Phoebe on the far right is my own. Well into the painting…and rushing to finish it for the Chicks show at Tri-C Gallery East, I found I needed the hand to be in a downward position. Having no reference from Phoebe herself for this hand position, I posed my own hand…artists do this more than you’d think.
This act of artistic convenience is also symbolic. Though, I’m not old enough to be her grandmother, I hope that after meeting her at our posing session, I can be added to Phoebe’s figurative grandmother tally as another ostensibly wise woman who cares about her.
And what good is a grandmother if she doesn’t dole out health advice…repeatedly?
For those of you who remembered my dire health warnings above about getting a PAP Test, don’t get too comfortable just because you have them every year.
Phoebe got hers yearly, but her particular brand of cervical cancer is a rare one, Cervical Adenocarcinoma and went undetected by the PAP test. So, really, her only defense would have been the HPV Vaccine, which vaccinates against the human papillomavirus, which can develop into cervical cancer.
But the vaccine didn’t exist when Phoebe was a teenager, and ideally it needs to be administered during the teen years. So, my starting message is also the takeaway message…please heed!
The vaccine does exist now.
This Just In:
I’m thrilled to let you know that Phoebe will be showing at the
Lakeland Community College
from WOMAN XII Annual Exhibition!
Reception: Sunday March 24, 3:30 to 5:00
Show dates: February 24-March 29
Check out the amazing roster of talent
in this show and c’mon down!
Lakeland Community College
7700 Clocktower Drive