Thursday, August 15, 2013

I was asked to answer some questions about my work for a New York/Brazilian Blog, Taxi Amarelo. Here it is in English!:

What has been the role of painting in these difficult days during you treatment?
  Painting these works has been an outlet for me to confront the reality of living in this cancer world that most people don't understand and don't like to think about.  I'm not much of a writer, so I express myself through my art.  It has been very therapeutic to tell my story through paint and really put it all out there, but also leaves me feeling very vulnerable.  I want the viewer to get a better idea of the reality of cancer and what it's like to live with it, like so many admirable people do.  I want other cancer patients to be able to identify with them and not feel so alone.  Cancer has an ungodly way of making you feel so utterly alone. 
                      Was it a natural decision to continue painting even after the diagnosis?  Also, You chose 
                      to paint mostly self-portraits.  How was that process and how did this choice happen?
  Before my diagnosis I had a studio in Brooklyn, where I painted large oil paintings of other people.  After my diagnosis I had to move in with my parents, get rid of my studio,  and couldn't really be around oil paint or turpentine because of the odor and toxicity.  My whole life drastically changed with that one cancer diagnosis phone call.  From then on I found myself feeling very isolated in this "cancer world".  My treatments have been absolutely brutal and many times I felt I was on death's door.  I found myself truly alone with myself, confronted with extremely tough and heavy thoughts that cancer threw in my face.  As my treatments continued, the less I could relate to my old friends and work.   
  I started using watercolors because I could paint in bed and they had no toxic odor to make me nauseas.  At first I painted weird little images from my heavily drugged brain, avoiding thinking about cancer and death as much as I could. I was using painting as more of an escape at the beginning.  I have always been a portrait painter and knew I would sooner or later have to paint a bald self portrait.  I had to.  Thats how this series started.  From then on I became more passionate on telling this story especially after my cancer spread to my lungs in January.  Since then I understood what the word "terminal" meant a lot more.  Feelings and thoughts that I had pushed away because I innocently thought I would be "cured," now had to be dealt with and I took to my watercolors.  Cancer has unfortunately consumed my life and I needed to address this with my work.  I can't explain how scary and alone cancer is but hope my paintings do.  I'm not trying to sugar coat anything with these pieces.  They are not happy paintings, but they are real, and I believe other cancer patients can relate to them.
                      Although you've been transforming the illness into poetry through this work, it must have     
                     a very painful side to record these moments. Are the paintings helping you cope?
 Yes, they do help me cope.  My ability to paint is really one of the only things I have left now that my health is gone.  They give me a feeling of accomplishment.  Cancer took away my ability to have a job, it has made my social life pretty difficult and I don't even try to think about a future because I have been burned too many times by this disease.  I spend the majority of my time sick and suffering and sometimes I think "what is the point of this?  Why go on?"  but my work has given me a reason to go on, to tell my story that I feel goes beyond me.  Yes, my paintings are mostly self portraits but I'm using myself as a subject to reach out to others who are in similar pain, struggling to survive.  I have been so blessed to meet other cancer patients who are such amazing people, who have similar struggles, and who I can really relate to.  They have helped me put things in perspective, not give up,  and really appreciate what I do have.  Many, whom I've had the honor to paint.

 How do you think viewers will react to this new phase of your job?
  I have been blown away by the response to my work by so many people!  I know they are difficult for my family and friends to look at. They are very intense and personal but I'm being as honest as possible.   I think they also make them proud of me, which alone is enough for me to live for.  Other patients and even strangers have reached out, telling me how much my work has touched them.  I've even been told they have made them cry.  I can't think of a better compliment to an artist, that a painting could move them that deeply.  As I type this I am literally stuck in the hospital, sick from the side effects of chemo but my heart is light as I look forward to my exhibit next week.  Having these paintings to express myself and reach out to others fighting gives me a reason to live, it gives me goals and makes me feel like i'm accomplishing something when so many things in my life have been taken away.  When I'm gone, whenever that may be, my work will still be able to speak for me.  


  1. Melissa, I read your blog last night, and I cannot explain to you how much your words and paintings touched my heart. I feel that your recent paintings tell so much about the loneliness and sadness that is part of cancer. I was too diagnosed with cancer (breast cancer in my case) at the age if 28 (4 years ago). I live in Jerusalem - a world apart from you - and yet, the same thoughts, fears, anger and hopes fill my mind as I struggle to live on. I wish I could come to your exhibit next week. Love to you, Miriam Singer

    1. Dear Miriam, I am actually really touched by your words. Your words are exactly what keeps me painting and mean so much to me. It helps me believe in message of them and I am so glad you have shared your thoughts with me. Keep on going!! love to you all the way in Jerusalem!

  2. Hi Melissa, I just wanted to say reading your blog is one the most heartfelt and courageous things that one could do being in your situation. I became aware of your current diagnosis and art show through the MassArt alumni page that is promoting your body of work. You and I were in Barbara Grad's painting studio together, I think maybe 2004 or 2005? I always liked your paintings and admired your dedication to your portraits. Since graduation, I taught Art in public schools for about 2 years and continued to paint intermittently. I have switched careers into Physical Therapy since then and have worked with some young cancer patients throughout my per diem work at rehab hospitals in the Boston area. I think you are very admirable for recording the events of your life in such a candid, honest way. I couldn't help but read through your entire blog and I am sending you well wishes and good vibes. I'll be thinking of you, stay strong and best of luck with the show. I'm sure its going to be AMAZING. Take Care, Adrienne Laurano

    1. Hello Adrienne! I love that you contacted me and that you are working with cancer patients. I think that helping other people in what ever way you can is the most rewarding thing you can do in life! I miss Mass Art and would go back to those days in a heart beat! Thank you for your kind words, and vibes. It means a lot to me. xo

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