Using art to transform pain into freedom

Art therapy is becoming more and more important in fostering wellness

Parksville artist Carol Ann Fetherston is a breast cancer survivor.  Her self portrait while she was undergoing chemotherapy is one of the many pieces on display at the MAC exhibit called Art for Healing.

Parksville artist Carol Ann Fetherston is a breast cancer survivor. Her self portrait while she was undergoing chemotherapy is one of the many pieces on display at the MAC exhibit called Art for Healing.

Some powerful artwork is on display at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville and the artists who contributed to the exhibition hope their work will help anyone who may be struggling with pain.

The exhibition called Art for Healing runs until April 28 and includes an array of work from a variety of artists who have used the creative process of art as a healing force.

Art therapy is becoming increasingly important in fostering wellness.  When something bad happens expression through art it is a way to process emotions and can be part of healing.

People who are suffering in one way or another have been turning to art to help them piece their lives back together for centuries.

Impressionistic painter Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis during the final decades of his life.  By 1910 he was wheelchair bound and unable to hold a paintbrush. Using his art as a coping mechanism, he had the paintbrush tied to his wrist.

Parksville artist Carol Ann Fetherston has used art to transform her pain and release feelings she was struggling with during her treatment for breast cancer a year and a half ago.  She said when she was feeling horrible art came to the rescue.

Fetherston, who underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, said the experience took its toll on her both physically and mentally and after she laid it all out on canvas, she was able to free herself from some of the pain.

“I lost my hair and was very self conscious about it. I always wore a hat including going to bed at night.

“One day I said to heck with this.  I got a mirror out and paints and said I am just going to paint myself as I am,” she recalled.

Fetherston said it was a real cathartic experience for her and she never thought anyone would ever see the painting.

“It was going to go in a drawer and that was it,” she admitted and added the painting doesn’t look at all like she does today.

“It is a watercolor of what I felt about myself at the time.  It was brutal … I was brutal and I put all the ugliness there.

“That is how I was feeling … my long face, sad eyes, the green around my face … but it is the reality of what people feel and what they go through.”

Fetherston, who recently moved to Parksville from West Vancouver, was encouraged to submit her self portrait for the exhibition and she is hoping it will show that people are not alone in their challenges.

“I feel very self conscious about it … being naked in public but at the same time I also realize that a lot of people have gone through cancer treatment and a lot of people don’t understand the feelings that go with it.”

Art can change a person’s perceptions of their world. It can change attitude, emotional state, and pain perception. It can create hope and positivity and help people cope with difficulties.

A picture tells a thousand words and Fetherston said a canvas reveals feelings when words fail.

Fetherston recently went through a break up and an art exercise in which she illustrated eight emotional states helped her understand some of the feelings she was going through.  She said for her the finished pieces helped her make sense of her emotions.

Going through an illness can dramatically change your life and Fetherston said there are many fears including death but acknowledging the feelings is important.

She said she would like to do a series now on some of the feelings of the other experiences she went through during her cancer treatment.

“What was pretty intimidating for me was when you go into the hospital the doctors are very efficient and very supportive but you have this big radiation machine that comes down on top of you and they exit out the door and you are left alone the room.”

She admitted her feelings of stress and fear have resulted in creativity and inspiration.

She said she still has anxiety about the cancer coming back but she is keeping her fingers crossed.  Her next goal is to apply for status to become a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

A reception for the public to meet the exhibiting artists will be held on Friday March 30, from 7 p.m.  to 9 p.m. at the McMillan Arts Centre, at 133 McMillan Street in Parksville.