Archive for the 'Cancer Art' Category


Sketch Yourself in Words, the next chapter

Sketch Yourself in Words:  14 October 2012, Sunday afternoon

I once saw myself as this kick-ass cowgirl—of the very urban persuasion–who could multitask circles around just about anyone, while maintaining a focus that would take your breath away.  I saw myself as strong.  As capable.  As whole and funny and passionate and energetic.  I thought of myself as sharp, smart, full of integrity and ingenuity.  Creativity and problem solving were my hallmarks—I was USEFUL!  I love to work—even then I loved to work. I also thought I was pretty and sexy, whether in a bikini or a karate uniform…… I saw myself as a young, devoted married woman, a professional, effective working woman, a young and very loving mother, someone who could get the job done and who was bringing it every day better than the one before. Then I woke up.  Har, har….Just kidding.  I really did think those things about myself most of the time.  I had a fair amount of attitude, but to be fair to me, life had demanded it of me all the way through.

When I became a painter ten years ago at the age of 44, I knew I was made for this work, that even my arrogance and attitude were the attributes which, along with my intense tenacity, would help me to make my best creative work.

And when I was diagnosed with cancer five years later in 2007, accompanied over the next four years by chronic health issues and terrible  moon face and weight gain….I painted more, I loved my work and myself even more.  As I let go of my career in education and embraced my new full time artist status,,,,I saw myself as happy even when I also knew I was hurt and sad and confused.  Cancer had kicked me inside and out, physically and mentally, and in my most important relationships, but it had also pushed me through a door I might not have been able to walk through on my own.

I am so so so lucky to have the best family and friends in the universe.  I have a great life,,,,amazing husband and daughters….unbelievable support from my community.   I never take the people I love for granted.

But at the end of the day, the woman I count on to be my best support and friend, who holds my secrets and fears, whose approval I require above all– is me.  I’m the one who has been with me all the way these 54 years, and I am the one who will walk myself to the other side of who-knows-what.

Right now I’m starting to see myself in some new ways:  forgetful and distractable beyond the fog I’d come to know through chemo, radiation, whole brain radiation, radiosurgery and more radiosurgery.  I’ve started to hear my husband and children say things like “Mama, you really did know about that, you just forgot”  more often than ever before. I’ve gotten lost and damaged trying to find a path I use every day….I need help in ways I didn’t think I’d ever accept. I run into things.  I have numb pain from toe to waist on one side.  My head hurts.  I’m so cold.  Then I’m hot.  I’m not allowed to roast the chiles alone anymore.  I use a coffee pot that turns itself off so I don’t burn down the house.  I make brutal decisions about time and energy.  I ask my friends to walk with me, or to sit for me in exchange for my poor company. To give me healing or massage. Mostly I ask them to either paint with me,  or leave me to paint. Often I refuse most food I don’t make. I’m spending my grant money on a sink for the studio and a bed easel so the days I can’t walk down the stairs or just can’t get out of bed, I can still work.  A woman to drive me to drawing groups.  Paint and tubes,,,adding up how much I think I can actually use over the next few months.?  Now they don’t call me a survivor, or cancer clean, or any of those things.  THey tell me I’ll always be STage 4:   Stage 4 metastatic cancer with metastesis to the brain, CNS, around most organs….The only place I don’t seem to have breast cancer is in my breasts–but that may have changed, too. Tenacity is my other name. I ask for help, and I ask for understanding.  I am compassionate to old and infirm people in an even more profound way as I bumble through the woods…

But the main thing that scares me is that my energy level is dropping.  I’m tired.  I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.  Help me work, study, think, hold my brush…set up my easel—which way do the knobs go? Righty tighty, lefty lucy. I still have this fiery desire to make my work.  Even drawing boxes to learn linear perspective feels like achieving a goal, gessoing and sanding boards feels like living the dream.  And when I put brush in paint to board I know myself again, still, more deeply…that lets me know I am still here…

And to Life, I add, please help me to choose deep time with my husband and daughters, with my family and my soul friends.  Help me make the most of what is left of my energy.  Give me my husband’s love and help me not think of what it will be to go somewhere without him driving me, without him loving me.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I now give away things each week, wrap up projects….organize the chaos so my family won’t have to.  I write the letters my daughter asks me for her wedding and when she has a baby.  I remind my daughters and my loving husband that I am on their side—always.  I arrange to make a trip home to Denver to connect with my family and friends.  How many kisses do you want I always ask my youngest nephews and they almost always say 100.  I ask for a million.  A trillion.  I always want more.

I see myself now as a weeping woman who is walking toward the door now, not with arrogance or tenacity or attitude but stooped with humility and deep tiredness, begging for a little more love, a little more work done, a little more time……

Viola Moriarty, 14 October 2012



10 years

I missed my own painting anniversary:  6 June 2002 was the first time I ever held a paintbrush or put oil paint to canvas.  I had gone out at the suggestion of my friend, Stella,  and on that day I knew a door had been opened for me,  and that  I’d change my life in whatever ways it took to walk through it.   Painting made me feel like me, like I was made for this.  All my liabilities became assests, and  my sensitivities and oddities became useful.  From the first day, if my paintings lacked skill  the thing they never lacked was life or honesty.  And that is still true.

Instead of celebrating my 10th anniversary of the first time I ever held a brush to canvas, yesterday I lied here and slept on and off,  recuperating from the stereotatic radiosurgery from the day before, medicated and drinking egg creams sometimes half-dreaming about what I will work on when I get my ass out of this bed (finish espresso lino-cut reduction prints, work on painting of Anna, get back out to plein air work, get back to life drawing.   My daughter Anna and my friend Mari took turns staying near me while I slept the day away til Jon came home.

My life as an artist is about all the days of my life, about my current  identity in this world, and–with or without my permission– it pervades all the other things I do or don’t do.  Even my druggy sleep, even during the radiation—I am painting even when I am not painting.



Barbie gets cancer (redux)

mixed media, 2008

These four pieces were done in 2007-8 after my first breast cancer diagnosis.  In honor of Mattel’s recent conversation about the possibility of releasing a bald Barbie, I thought I’d put them out there again.  I’m currently working on WholeBrainRadiation Barbie, Fasolodex Barbie, Metastatic Barbie, and Brain Met Barbie.  The info about Ruth Handler still amazes me.


Things Happen (Espresso pot, spoon, one fallen and one upright cup), 2012

Things Happen (Espresso pot, spoon, one fallen and one upright cup)oil on birchwood board, 16″ x 24″, 2012.  Painting #3 in the Live Your Life Series.


“Live your Life”, the oncologist said

Live Your Life, #1 and #2, both 16″ x 24″, oil on birchwood board, 2011.


Wanting to badly to feel like me again, wanting to paint, and still very sick constantly, very tired and weak, but finally Live Your LIfe #1 with the mixer came easy and I worked for a few days on it, then #2 was a struggle….and then as I got sicker I couldn’t paint again in oil–I just didn’t have the  juice.  I love the first of these two paintings as much as anything I’ve ever painted, and I think they both speak to the experience of trying to regain one’s normal life with metastatic cancer, especially with brain mets.  I am reminded of the Sesame Street song, One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is kinda the same.

viola moriarty

(American, b. 1958)
Modern Expressionist Painter
2012-13 Recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant

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