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Healing Art: An Alternative Therapy

10.15.02 - by: Sabrina Cognata

Imagine art that provided the artist the ability to heal.  Carol Es and Nancy Cone did.  Cone and Es own and operate Three, a gallery and studio.  Together, the two teamed up to produce the art exhibit Held Ransom; a peek into the lives of six trauma survivors.  The art show introduced the theme of dysfunctional relationships in the lives of the artists and how each of the artists uses their work to cope with variant dysfunctional relationships. 

When I showed up to the gallery opening I really wasn't sure what to expect.  Since the exhibit was called Held Ransom I wondered if it would have some sort of hostage situation theme.  I was wrong.  Go figure.  As usual, I arrived late.  I concur traffic in Los Angeles is a bitch.  Tucked away in the art district of Old Town San Pedro I found myself viewing the inner traumas of six brave artists.  Without the art adorning the white walls of the gallery, it would vaguely resemble a naked hospital room.

Each artist addresses the subject matter with their own distinct style and past tribulations.  Sculptor Nancy Cone worked with such emotionally heavy topics as child abuse and suicide.  In her piece, "Super Someday" she mirrors an abused child's view of himself and hopes for the future.  The piece places a young boy with a black eye facing the mirror image of his future self.  A super hero that will save the day and stop the abuse.  Cone said the dysfunction of "Super Someday" comes from the relationship between an abusive father and son.  "Misfortune Cookies", clearly Cone's most personal piece, stood out as a symbol of the artists personal life.  Each "fortune" cookie possesses a horrible truth about Cone's life.  "Those are all actual things that have happened to me," Cone says, "(fortune cookies) I probably shouldn't have opened."   The fateful cookies of Cone's life were decorated with messages such as "You will be raped" and "Your husband will kill himself".  Cone says when she thought about the show's topic she reviewed the misfortunes of her life and decided to put them into fortune cookies. 

Harold Plople has been drawing his whole life.  He currently paints out of "The Living Museum" a group based through The Harbor View House.  Harbor View House is the largest non-profit residential mental health care facility in California.  The program, "The Living Museum" bases therapy through the form of artistic expression.  Plople suffers from a severe anxiety disorder and part of his treatment of it is painting.  Plople says he focused his work for the showing on dysfunctional people he encountered. "They told me it was a show on dysfunction," Plople says, "I did 15 dysfunctional drawings on dysfunction." With the 15 drawings Plople touched on subject matter such as impotence, vagrancy and obesity.  He says painting transformed him from just another crazy person into an artist.

Artist Elizabeth Hoffman uses found art as her basic creative staple.  Hoffman says her pieces correlate to the shows theme because everything relates to some form of dysfunction.  Her work is obviously phallic and focuses on the perceptions of the relationships.  Hoffman's painting, aptly entitled "Cock Ring" deals with the enigma of power and how it is manipulated by people.  "It's like a childhood puzzle," Hoffman says, "It's almost like the lessons you were never taught but could only learn from experience."  Hoffman also works with textiles and fabrics to create dolls.  She says her dolls are familiar to people, but by sexualizing them she is able to tell a new story…  the story of dysfunction among what we think we see and what is really visible.

Matt Sesow started to paint to impress a girl he was dating, and to fit in with her social circle.  Eventually, he discovered painting served as a therapy for the issues of his past.  Sesow uses his painting to work through the dysfunctional relationship of handicap people and the way the world views them.  When he was eight years old, he was hit by a plane while playing on an airfield near his home. One of the plane's propellers severed his right arm down to the elbow.  Sesow says the show's theme of dysfunction comes from "growing up with a physical disability," and "learning to deal with childhood trauma."  His paintings are filled with rich romantic colors outlining the action with thick black lines.  "Nobody's Pushover" explores the transformation of his own physical handicap.  In the painting, a girl missing one foot fights outside forces so she will not end up a victim of her disability.  Sesow admits to sexualizing the painting because he, "wanted people to see (the girls underpants)-and the last thing they would notice would be her missing foot."

Carol Es looks to the suffering of her childhood and adolescence as inspiration.  Es says the exhibition's theme creates a connection with viewers.  "People who may never have been exposed to the art world will find a common bond with the artists," says Es.  She says she hopes the theme will breech the severed relationship between the idea of art and esotericism.  Es's characteristically brightly colored paintings depict the horrific ordeals of her past.  She says most of her early works are blatant insights into her soul and she plans to move away from revealing so much of herself in her work.  "I kind of wanna be more vague," Es says while nervously playing with her hands, "not so like, here is my shitty life for everyone to see.  I want to set boundaries."  Es says her painting, "Wrong Mom" is an example of the aesthetic visual direction Es is heading toward.  

Anne Grgich uses eerie collages to explain the dysfunction of relationships.  Grgich is rather well known for her association with the Outsiders, a group of American artists.  The bold romantic colors are down played by the esoteric murals of her work.  She uses the murals to dictate her opinions on the direction and sentiment of humanity.  "Open Heart Surgery" speaks to the viewer as he too becomes one of the spectators painted in her collage.  She decorates her collaged murals with found materials and then applies layers of over painting, a technique she adapted from watching a friend make surf boards.

Held Ransom runs at the Three studio and gallery until November 2, 2002.  For more information visit their website Three Studio.





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