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Painting has been a part of my life since I was a child, but its purpose has changed as I have grown. As a child, painting allowed my imagination to come alive by creating something that was tangible. As I came to face the challenges of adolescence, painting became a vehicle for me to express visually the things that I couldn’t express verbally. My paintings depicted the discovery of my own sexuality and my relations with others and of my growing need for independence. As an adult, painting still plays this role, but the physical act of painting and the messages conveyed have changed. The purpose of painting took on another dimension when I was confronted with the diagnosis of a very serious disease.

The fourth week of my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I transgressed from a state of perfect health to one of complete immobility, forcing me to be carried into the emergency room. This experience, in itself, was terrifying, but I became even more frightened when the doctors were unable to determine what was wrong with me. After two months of doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. The words at first meant nothing. Slowly I learned what lupus is and the many forms in which it can manifest. In my case, it takes the form of arthritis, which is a very painful inflammation of the joints and muscles. As I began to process the fact that I have this disease, I was overwhelmed by the thought that it would be with me for the rest of my life. I was only eighteen and forced to reshape my life around a disease. For someone my age, this turn of events seemed so unfair. Yet the numerous medications and their negative side effects, the biweekly blood tests and doctor visits
, and the sheer physical pain rendered me unable to consciously deal with the confusion, anger and fear that I felt.

My paintings allow me to sort through the conflicting emotions I face as I cope with this disease. Painting enables me to escape into a world of others. The characters in my paintings represent the different personas I become as I try to integrate Lupus into my life. I am a strong person and I will not allow this disease to defeat me or change who I am. Through my paintings, I can positively dispose of the different personalities Lupus has tried to force upon me: the victim, the cripple, and the heart-broken. At the same time, my paintings are a testament to my ability to cope with this illness so that it does not control my life. On a physical level, I still force myself to paint or draw even when it hurts to move my fingers. The physicality of painting becomes a challenge that ends in a victory of being able to do what I love even though my body is fighting against me. The components of brilliant colors, humor and sexuality seen in my work evidence the victory I achieve as I complete a work of art; one that I must strive for daily as Lupus tries to place new obstacles in my way.

It is important for the viewer to appreciate more than just the visual aspects of my paintings. When an audience sees my work, it is my intention for them to see it with an understanding of myself and my disease, for it is with this knowledge that my paintings take on another dimension of meaning. My art stands as testimony to the amazing power of the human spirit to overcome hardships, of any type, without losing one’s identity and sense of self-worth. It is my hope that my art will give faith to others who are fighting their own personal battles.

 

For Information
E-mail the Artist at:
contopulos@hotmail.com
Studio City, California

 
 

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All works Amy Contopulos