Art—Connecting Through Experience

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By Susanne Forestieri

I have cancer. It’s a terrible way to learn how much you are loved. My family and friends rallied around me, and I found I was never alone. Flowers keep arriving at my door by messenger, and friends bring flowers from their gardens. One friend went beyond my expectations, bringing me healthy juices, flowers, and treats I probably shouldn’t be eating.  

I only met Yasmina Chavez two years ago when a mutual friend suggested we collaborate. A recent graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas art department, her work is conceptual, which means starting with an idea; I’m traditional, usually working from live models or photographs. I couldn’t see how we could work together, but she had a project in mind and was so full of enthusiasm that I went along with her concept, even though I didn’t understand it. The heart of the project was a video that featured me naked, standing in Death Valley covered in clay for over an hour as the setting sun as the backdrop. Did I mention it was the middle of the summer? I can’t imagine doing anything like this if I had not left New York City and moved to Nevada. It nearly killed us, but we bonded for life like army buddies.

I never understood the concept, but when I saw the Warm Bodies video I was shocked by the final scene. Seen from the back, I’m being led away to rinse off, but what I saw in my mind was the end of a life – a cinematic riding into the sunset. I was so weak a friend had to hold me up, and the fading light gave the scene a poignant feel. It turned out to be prescient since I received my cancer diagnosis six months later and was sure I would die soon. After surgery and six months of chemo-therapy I was too weak to paint, but I could feel my soul dying, so I resumed painting, if only for an hour a day.  

Reminiscences are the perfect title for this show. The works date from my 1974 self-portrait done in the last year of art school to my self-portrait as a flamenco dancer completed late last year. (Dance, particularly flamenco dance is one of my great loves.) In between are paintings of my family, friends, and dancers. Like all of my best work they have a nostalgic or lonely feel. In fact, the loss of precious time, nostalgia, and loneliness are often the underlying themes of my work and the desire to connect with another person is evident in the portraits. I am a great patron of the arts; reading and visiting the theater and concerts are a great joy to me and give me the connection I sometimes miss in life. Being an artist is a lonely profession, but the greatest consolation is connecting to people who experience the feelings I had making the art. For me that is the meaning of the humanities.  

(The video we created, Warm Bodies, can be seen here and a shorter trailer for the film can be seen here. [This film is an independent production and contains nudity and strong language. Any views or opinions represented here are personal and belong solely to the artist, author, and filmmaker and do not represent those of Nevada Humanities its staff, or any partner or affiliated organization.]

Maren Rush