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(c) Loren Fidalgo 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
OLIVER SACKS AND MY HEAD
My friend Shawna and I went to see the famous doctor Oliver Sacks, speak at The Philadelphia Free Library this past week. He is an internationally known neurologist and author and he has a new book out, THE MIND’S EYE. Oliver Sacks is famous doctor and author for the types of cases he work with. He has worked with many artists with a variety of illness, as well as other people who have, bizarre brain disorders, that do not have an answer or treatment. He wrote the book AWAKENINGS which catapulted him in to the limelight. This book was turned into a movie starring Robert Deniro and Robin Williams. He also wrote the well-known book, THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT, MIGRAINE and MUSICOPHILIA where he talks about the significance of music for human beings and the brain. I, being terribly fascinated by the workings of the human mind and brain, jumped at the chance to go when my friend asked me if I would be interested to hear him speak.
The lecture was interesting and he talked about some medical cases that are in his new book. Unfortunately, it was not long enough to allow more than three people to ask the doctor questions. A few people did ask questions, however, they had to be cut short because he was doing a book signing. I wanted to raise my hand and ask him about my mysterious obsession with oil painting, which developed out of the blue. I thought for sure, Oliver Sacks would know what this all means. Unfortunately, I did not raise my hand in time, out of social embarrassment. UGGHHH!!! So, the lectured ended and I had no answers to my unusual symptoms that have occurred after an accident I had.
Approximately, 3 years ago, I was in my Ceramics class at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, PA (the only free tuition art school in the country). I was in front of a shelving unit, loading some pieces onto the shelf to be fired. I bent down to place some on the lowest shelf, and lightly bumped into the shelf. It was so rickety, that the slightest bump caused it to rock to and fro. There was a super large bisque fired sculptural vase on the top shelf of the unit. It was about 18 inches tall and had a 12 inches in diameter top piece that was 4 inches deep. The top piece was attached to a narrow base. The base alone was about 9 inches tall and an inch and a half thick all around. It weighed at least 5 to 6 pounds. This thing was huge! When I bumped in to the shelving unit, I heard something moving back and forth, and as I picked up my head to see what it was, I caught a glimpse of the vase as it came tumbling down directly on top of the left side of my head! It broke into pieces after colliding with my skull. Initially, I was stunned and grabbed the top of my head. All the students standing there looked on in shock and no one knew what to do. Shawna (who is the Ceramics teacher as well as my friend) came to the rescue and had someone get some ice. I seemed to be ok after 15 minutes and got a cab to go home, so I did not have to drive. When I arrived at my house, I did not feel well, so I got another cab, and went to the emergency room.
The doctor examined me and asked all the routine questions, and did not believe I had a serious injury, so he did not have me get a CAT Scan to see of I had a mild concussion. I left the hospital and went on with my evening and as time went by, I did not give it a lot of thought aside from telling the tale of my war wounds to fellow ceramic students who weren’t there to witness it. I have saved a part of the vase (the base) that did not break apart. I will keep it forever to show the size and weight of it, to whom ever I tell the story to!
Approximately two months after the accident, with no pre-thought, and on a whim, I chose to sign up for a painting and drawing class at Fleisher for the next semester and I decided to no longer take Ceramics class. This was highly out of character for me since I had done Ceramics for over 20 years and loved it. Out of the blue, with out any deliberation, I signed up for oil painting and a drawing class! What was so odd about this change was that I had always had a bit of aversion toward painting and didn’t think I’d be very good at it. I previously did not like anything related to painting and was terribly intimidated by it.
When I went to the first class, I sat and listened to the teacher give all the materials for the semester and I sat there like it was something I was familiar with and I was right at home. Nothing felt out of place to me. For the second class, I brought Titanium White and Mars black paint requested by my teacher, and jumped right into painting. Without any conscious thought, I picked up a palette knife, and began painting with it. I painted the entire painting with the knife. It never occurred to me to use a paintbrush!
I didn’t think that there was any correlation to my starting to paint and the “clunk on the head”; until I took another painting class with a different teacher, and he thought that there might be a connection. What is also very bizarre about the “clunk on the head”, is that I’ve developed a problem distinguishing green and orange and green and red. Here is an example of something that happened while I was on vacation in Florida last April with my in-laws. We were staying at a place called The Villages, where seniors go to retire. There are many golf courses in the communities and everyone drives around in supped-up golf carts. One day while riding in the cart with my husband Paul, I saw another cart coming our way and said, “Oh, look at that cart. It is so cute”. Paul said, “Which one?” I said it was the “orange one”. He said, “where?” I said “there” and pointed ahead of us. He said, “that’s green, hon!”
Another change has been my newly found interest in painting still lives. I had always avoided them in college because they made me uncomfortable for some reason. I have painted approx. 6 paintings in the last 20 years, however, my interest and attention did not take hold and I thought that they were not very good. With the exception of 3 paintings, the other paintings I think are way below mediocre. Currently, without any knowledge how it happened, I have totally fallen in love with oil painting and mixed media art. I love to paint everything from still lives to fantasy, realism to abstract, small to large canvases, black and white to full color! I just love everything about it. I love the smell of the oil paints and the Linseed oil, which I did not like before the “clunk on the head”! I am now also using the large easel that my husband Paul gave me over 20 years ago, and I used for only 2 paintings, back in the day.
I am finding that I can express so much through painting, and I feel like I need to express lots. Happy things, sad things, funny things and scary things, depressing things and enlightened things, all are open to me through oil painting.
The reason I am telling this story along with Oliver Sacks lecture, is because I have been wondering if something happened to me when I was “clunked on the head” with the large vase. I really became aware of the fact that something had to have happened and his lecture brought it up front and center in my mind? I wanted to run it by Oliver Sacks to see what his idea was about what happened, since he has a lot of experience treating artists. Unfortunately, the lecture ran out of time and I didn’t get to ask him about it, however, I left the lecture with more curiosity and questions about the unusual changes in my behavior and color confusion. I realized that I would need to go to see a neurologist to find out if I suffered any damage from the enormous vase that fell on top of my head. I have also been wondering, “Did I take up painting because I was hit on the head, or is it a coincidence?” I do not know the answer to this, but I do know that whatever the reason, I am now in my 2 ½ years of painting and taking painting classes with no end in sight! I have not returned to Ceramics Class.
Last April I won Honorable Mention for one of my paintings “THE PLANT” in Fleisher’s Annual Student Show. Ironically, the painting is in mostly green and orange! These are the two colors that I am having trouble with.
Well, although I did not find the answers to my questions about my head injury from Oliver Sacks, I have been left with the notion that most likely something happened that night in Ceramics Class, when the large vase fell on my head and possibly as a result, I have started painting. If it is not the explanation for my absorption in painting and mixed media, then all I can do is embrace the change of artistic direction and like the meaning of a painting, I may never know the answer. So, I tell myself, “Just paint!”