Recipe for Resilience: Disease vs Matisse

At the close of 2018 my body was going haywire. I became overwhelmed by extreme fatigue, respiratory problems, and incapacitating headaches. I was experiencing heavy depression, constant mood swings and a non-stop flaring of binge eating.

I was terrified. I thought I had come down with some permanent damage like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – the little chartered long-term illness affecting millions around the world with low energy levels and functionality. My doctor thought it might have been a possibility too and booked me in for blood tests.

I was unable to keep up with both my part-time day job and my art. Sitting in my office chair and continuing my digital painting was proving impossible. The more I pushed, the heavier I crashed. I had no other option left but to take it easy and try not to kick myself over my lack of progress.

Mixed media painting commissioned for customer passionate about travelling created by Phaedon-Z
Mixed media painting commissioned for customer passionate about travelling

As a struggling artist, stagnation equals failure. I had arranged to take heaps of leave over November and December and had been excited at the prospect of filling it with art. Instead, I was – once again – forced into inertia by circumstances beyond my control. Story of my life, I thought and it piled more weight onto my plummeting spirits.

The blood tests came back showing a Vitamin D deficiency that was significant yet reversible. I was relieved. The doctor put me on food supplements. It took a few weeks to start recovering.

In the meantime, I was getting bored with lying on the sofa, finding passive escapism in Netflix and audiobooks. I was itching for the more artful kind.

I had three commissions for Christmas gifts that were luckily quite open-ended and I wanted to, somehow, get them done. Still too tired to proceed with my digital work, I turned to traditional materials.  

Mixed media painting commissioned for customer who is a fan of pop star SOPHIE created by Phaedon-Z
Mixed media painting commissioned for customer who is a fan of pop star SOPHIE

I remembered Henri Matisse, the old master, who was left chair and bedridden for the final decade of his life due to cancer. With painting and sculpture becoming physical challenges, he turned to collage, which allowed him to inhabit a bright, colourful and inventive space between the two. Taking inspiration from him, I bought myself a pack of multicoloured paper and started shredding.

It turned out to be one of the most self-revealing experiences of my life. Having a general concept of what I wanted to communicate with each piece, I first tore the paper and used the pieces as brush strokes, layering it to form abstract backgrounds. The backgrounds turned out great, but too simple to satisfy my sense of storytelling. I wanted more.

I had the idea to paint portraits on tracing paper and incorporate them into the painting, playing with the transparency of the paper in order to create more depth and movement. I used the acrylic inks and decoupage glue I bought four years before and never had a chance to experiment with, since I had been so focused on digital paints and writing.

Mixed media painting commissioned for customer who is a fan of Japanese pop band Halcali and vintage Chinese advertisements created by Phaedon-Z
Mixed media painting commissioned for customer who is a fan of Japanese pop band Halcali and vintage Chinese advertisements

My new way of working transformed the materials themselves in a highly original departure from any rigid perceptions of what a painting or an illustration should look like. It took me back to the beginning of my second – adult – journey into becoming an artist, which started in 2010 in Berlin, inspired by the infinite layers of graffiti on the Wall and the sense of personal history it evoked and how much I wanted to emulate that feeling.

It allowed me to understand that what gets me started as an artist is not so much the creation of a character, but the freedom provided by a raw, freeing, abstract gesture. Movement and storytelling is what really get my juices flowing.  Add layers of nuance and figurative history on top of that and you have an art cake!

Delicious!

Best of all, I baked the whole thing lying on the sofa!

Free yourself, learn yourself!

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