Coping with Cancer Through Art

Randy head shot

Randy Bostic

Los Angeles-based Randy Bostic voted The Phillips Collection “Best Museum off the Mall” in Washington City Paper’s Best of DC 2015. She explains why in this guest blog post. 

I live in Los Angeles. I started coming to DC regularly in 2011 because of chemotherapy treatments at the NIH for a rare cancer. To pass the time during the weeklong treatment periods, I was always visiting different places in and around DC. On my third trip, I first went to the Phillips. I was amazed at the depth and variety of the art, especially Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, The Rothko Room, and the setting of the two buildings. I soon stopped going to other museums, and every trip I would make my pilgrimage to the Phillips. I realized that I got more out of coming to the Phillips repeatedly than I did going to different places each trip. Sometimes friends and family would accompany me on my bimonthly “chemo vacations,” and I found myself taking them to the Phillips as well. Knowing that I had the Phillips to look forward to on my trips really helped me get through a very difficult time.

Now I am 4 years into remission. Whenever I go to the NIH for check ups, I stop at the Phillips. The gallery feels like an old friend, a support, an inspiration to me. Whenever I walk in, I feel like I am surrounded by such a powerful life force. The Phillips is more than a museum to me. Lawrence, Rothko, Klee, the Laib Wax Room, and the rest got me through so much. It was a healing place to me.

Randy Bostic

Movement and Augustus Vincent Tack’s Aspiration

 

Augustus Vincent Tack, Aspiration, 1931. Oil on canvas, 74 1/4 in x 134 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, acquired 1932.

Augustus Vincent Tack, Aspiration, 1931. Oil on canvas, 74 1/4 in x 134 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, acquired 1932.

The Phillips is currently hosting the exhibition Art and Wellness: Creative Aging. The display features work from an ongoing collaboration between The Phillips Collection and Iona Senior Services. The program encourages older adults (many of whom suffer from chronic illness, including Alzheimer’s or related dementia), along with their families and caregivers, to make connections and access personal experiences and long-term memories through gallery conversations and hands-on art therapy.

Participants in the program looked at Augustus Vincent Tack’s Aspiration together. Members of the group saw movement, landscape, and weather in Aspiration. One individual described the painting, saying, “It’s almost like several storms are taking place at the same time—and some of it is water stirred up, the clouds stirred up. With the yellow you see some sunshine.” Another also saw rain in the painting and was struck by its motion. A different group member imagined hearing “water” and “splashing” as she looked at Aspiration.

Bringing the words motion, water, and storms into the art therapy studio, individuals were encouraged to develop movement in their artwork. Crumpling paper to create grooves, group members spread paint on top of the textured paper. They incorporated detail and form by adding pastel and pencil markings on top of the paint. This playful process inspired and excited group members, helping to foster an understanding of how texture can impact composition and mood.

(Top left) Patricia Abell, Family, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Top right) Isom "Ike" Hunter, Untitled, 2014. Acrylic paint on construction paper. (Middle left) Mildered Howard, The Perfect Paint, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Middle right) Alexander Tscherny, Untitled, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Bottom left) Susan Morgan, Eye Opener, 2014. Acrylic paint and chalk pastel on construction paper. (Bottom right) Michael Schaff, People who know each other at a party, 2014. Acrylic paint and colored pencil on construction paper.

(Top left) Patricia Abell, Family, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Top right) Isom “Ike” Hunter, Untitled, 2014. Acrylic paint on construction paper. (Middle left) Mildered Howard, The Perfect Paint, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Middle right) Alexander Tscherny, Untitled, 2014. Acrylic paint and oil pastel on construction paper. (Bottom left) Susan Morgan, Eye Opener, 2014. Acrylic paint and chalk pastel on construction paper. (Bottom right) Michael Schaff, People who know each other at a party, 2014. Acrylic paint and colored pencil on construction paper.

Portraits and Walt Kuhn’s Plumes

(Left) Walt Kuhn, Plumes, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. Acquired 1932. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. (Right) Marion "Duke" Green, Untitled, 2014. Watercolor and colored pencil on paper.

(Left) Walt Kuhn, Plumes, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. Acquired 1932. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. (Right) Marion “Duke” Green, Untitled, 2014. Watercolor and colored pencil on paper.

The Phillips is currently hosting the exhibition Art and Wellness: Creative Aging. The display features work from an ongoing collaboration between The Phillips Collection and Iona Senior Services. The program encourages older adults (many of whom suffer from chronic illness, including Alzheimer’s or related dementia), along with their families and caregivers, to make connections and access personal experiences and long-term memories through gallery conversations and hands-on art therapy.

Participants in the program looked at Walt Kuhn’s Plumes together. The painting prompted a group dialogue about how portraits convey mood and  composition, and how they can evoke personal memories. Individuals described the figure as “pensive,” “isolated,” “aloof,” and “not happy.” On participant, Duke, said, “She seems rather stiff and cold.” Another group member spoke of a “dichotomy” in the composition. She stated, “The feathers she wears on her head…there’s such an opposite appearance between what she’s wearing and how she presents herself.”

In the art therapy studio, Duke was drawn to Kuhn’s use of portraiture. He reminisced about his time drawing on the Atlantic City boardwalk with charcoal, and how he would identify women that inspired his work. He was eager to replicate the image: “It’s hard to go back to drawing after so many years. You see, I used to draw people’s portraits. But over time I’ve grown comfortable with it again.” Duke’s experience replicating Plumes gave him the confidence to continue to immerse himself in the artistic process, and reinvigorated his love for portraiture.