When artist Ted Meyer was first diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a lipid-storage disorder that is the most common genetic disease affecting Jews of Eastern European descent, he used his artistic talents to express his pain.
Now fully recovered due to breakthroughs in treatment, the 44-year-old, who is also a designer, illustrator and the author of two books, reflects on the progression of his work in relation to the course of his illness.
In October, Meyer’s two exhibits, "Structural Abnormalities" and "Scars" will be on display at the Biola University Art Gallery in La Mirada. The artist began the former series about 10 years ago when his illness was in full swing. Gaucher disease, caused by a genetic mutation, primarily consists of bone pain and damage to the shoulder or hip joints as a result of an enzyme deficiency. Meyer had a hip replacement and will undergo another this November, although he is now healthy and receives enzyme replacement every two weeks.
Although his illness has been compared to Tay-Sachs because of its association with Jews, Meyer doesn’t relate Gaucher disease to his religion. "It doesn’t come into play because African Americans have Tay-Sachs. I just see it as evolution," said Meyer, who said he feels "culturally Jewish, but not religiously Jewish."
"Structural Abnormalities" depicts images of skeletons crouching and kneeling, as if locked inside the boundaries of the canvas. "I started the skeleton paintings about six months before I had my first hip replacement done. I was at the point where I couldn’t walk very well and I felt very trapped in my own body," explained the New York native. "So, I started these contorted, painful skeletal images. Many of them are sort of compressed, which is how I felt." As his symptoms subsided, the figures in the series became rounder and fuller than the earlier works. Most of them also include more than one person, symbolizing the end of his own isolation.
"I started bringing in the outside world," Meyer said. "I was healthy and I wanted to be excited about that." Several paintings from "Structural Abnormalities" were included in the high-profile "eMotion Pictures" exhibit, which toured the Chicago Cultural Center, the United Nations and is currently continuing its U.S. tour.
Meyer’s second series, "Scars," was inspired by a woman he dated who had an 18-inch scar from when she broke her back and, as a result, was wheelchair bound. "I would see her back at night as we slept," he remembered. "I liked the shape of the scar." Meyer felt the visible memory of the wound revealed his friend’s strength and uniqueness. He took an imprint of the scar and then created a painting, which he felt was, in essence, a portrait of the woman herself. "It really marked where her life had changed," he said.
Meyer’s girlfriend encouraged him to reach out to others, as she was very active in the disabled community. "She really got on my case and felt that I lost touch with my psyche because I was now healthy and I wasn’t relating." Meyer first displayed his new piece in the Art Walk, an exhibit at Brewery, the world’s largest artist complex, located in Los Angeles, which he has called home for the last five years. People were fascinated by the piece and even approached him with their own scars and the stories behind them. From there, Meyer began a collection of the scar paintings.
While he admits that his work doesn’t appeal to everyone, most art enthusiasts feel the paintings are very powerful. For those who have had surgery, viewing Meyer’s work can be cathartic.
"I’ve had people come to the studio and just break out crying," Meyer said. "That’s what every artist wants: To resonate with people." The upcoming exhibit will include 16 pieces from the series.
As for the scar bearers, the experience of seeing reminders of their past pain transferred to the canvas has been a positive one: "Many people say, ‘I never thought anything good could come from this scar and now it’s going to be art,’" Meyer revealed.
As his work progressed over the years, he feels he’s able to reach out to others in a way he was once unable. "My art work has gone from being very ‘Ted-centric’ to being about everyone else," the artist said.
Ted Meyer’s exhibits can be seen at Biola University Art
Gallery, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, Oct. 7-27; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (Monday-Friday),
noon-5 p.m. (Saturday). Meyer will be at the gallery Oct. 8 from 6-9 p.m. For
more information, call (562) 903-4807. For more on Meyer’s artwork, visit www.artyourworld.com .