Two years ago I watched the film “Frida Kahlo” which starred Salma Hayek. I was riveted to my seat by what I saw and could not help but relate to it. Today I stumbled upon this site about Mrs. Kahlo-Rivera and I was again reminded of how much I understand this woman and the pains she endured, both physical and emotional. Throughout this suffering, no excuses were made, she loved and lived with a vitality that is remarkable under her circumstances. The love she shared with her partner Diego Rivera, an artist of equal repute, is unquestionable. I can appreciate the passion she felt for someone who understood her as no other. My new husband is not only a friend, but a partner and a soul mate. He understands the creative being that I am, which is a bit bewildering as sometimes I am not even sure I understand me all that much.
As an artist I understand the freedom that comes with physical and emotional pain. Many artists will tell you, upon reflection, that they work best under duress, be it emotional or physical. It is not unheard of in the creative community that personal pains are often the catalyst for some of the most wonderful works of art. I may not speak for all of our kind but I know that there are a large number of us that feel this way. Having just married I feel as if there has been a lull in that period of my life. I have known my fair and unfair share of personal tragedy. To tell you the truth I have been most creative when in excruciating pain. One piece of Frida’s work that connects with me is, The Broken Column (1944).
Back in 2000 after being in serious physical pain for over two years I had to have a disk removed from my spine. This left me barely able to move for around three months. I was supposed to be in recovery for up to a year learning how to become mobile again. The phrase “doctor’s worst nightmare” was coined with me in mind.
Two days after surgery I checked myself out of the hospital to the doctor’s harsh disapproval. I had a friend park a car in the lot and requested that the keys be left under the carpet. On the morning of my escape I awoke and asked that my IV lines and other offending machinery be removed from my person. The nurses were upset and would not do as I requested. The physiotherapist was called and I was asked if I could stand. I did. I was told that to regain full function of my legs I would have to stay and undergo at least three months of physical therapy. I would have none of that! Having lived with excruciating pain and loss of independence for over two years, what I was now feeling had nothing on what I had endured. I was leaving! I took matters into my own hands. I removed my IV lines and all the other instruments. I then proceeded to check myself out. I was warned that my back was stapled and the slightest wrong move could cause the wound to open and I could end up paralysed.
I made it down to the parking lot, found the car, and as requested the keys were there. I was overjoyed! I got into that car and drove home. When I got there I was so happy to see my mother there, but taking one look at the hole in my back she said she was not going to be able to cope, as it was so horrible. I should have stayed in the hospital where I could have the nurses tend to it. She did however bring me food for the next few months, as I took physical care of myself. The staples were large and would get caught in the layers of gauze that I had to apply without being able to see. Normally it would take around a half hour to change a dressing. During this time I was told that I could not have direct contact with the sun due to some of the medication I was on. Now, if any of you are familiar with The Cayman Islands you will know that it is virtually impossible unless you shut yourself in a windowless room. Being contrary, I decided that I did need sun. I began to open the windows and draw the curtains and I would lay on a towel on the floor as the sun streamed in on me. I began to have a severe reaction, which caused me to itch and break out in blood spots, meaning more medication!
After the first month I became very depressed, thoughts of suicide became present in my daily thoughts. How easy would it be to take all of my meds at once? Stop the pain! Then another thought came into mind, I couldn’t go outside but I knew where I would like to go, so why not paint myself where I wanted to be. For the next two months that was my plan. This painting was one of the few I have that was started back in those painful days. It is entitled “Ode to the Protector”. I completed it three years after I began it. The meaning and symbolism within this piece came from my subconscious. I do not have a lot of work that was created at that time.
Over the past six years I have battled with the physical issue of my body betraying me. However, I have come to an agreement that I hope will never be reneged upon. Just let me have two things, my hands and my eyes. As long as I can see and as long as I can paint I will be alright. I now have a husband who looks after me with lots of love and care. He understands my fears of falling apart. He understands that I only have my heart to give, as children are never going to be a part of our lives…not our own! He knows that the pain of losing one has left me scarred mentally and something I do not wish to repeat. Life is a journey, I like to say, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Today I am stronger than I was yesterday! I still suffer with my legs and my back, but I am thankful for all the things that I do have.
During my last surgery in 2005, while under heavy medication, I began painting an ode to an old dear friend of mine who has since died as a result of cancer. My friend’s name – Ed Oliver. I last saw Mr. Oliver in a hurricane shelter during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, where I served him his first cup of hot tea in the aftermath. He was there with his wife and their house had been completely ruined. I spoke to him right before his death, while he was in hospice care in North Carolina, and asked if he would mind if I did a number of paintings in his honour and he said it would be make him proud. It was the last time I spoke to him. Mr. Ed was a teacher of many and an archival artist of my island. I have chosen to speak about this now because he was a friend and fellow artist and he suffered tremendously in his last days. But his works will never be forgotten.
For many artists it is often tempting to paint to placate the commercial market, and I have done it myself on many occasions. For me, this is accompanied by another kind of pain – one of the soul. The body is never more alive or alert than when in pain and sometimes we must welcome it simply because it reminds us that we are alive.
Nickola, In Memory Of Ed Oliver, Friend, Teacher and Good Man.
“Oliver Flies Free”