Thursday, August 13, 2009

Art Might Be The Death of Me

Over the past few years, I've noticed my sensitivity to the chemicals in many types of paint has become so acute that even a faint whiff of nail polish can make me feel queasy. My reaction to enamel's carcinogenic fumes is more extreme but somehow I've grown used to the idea that nausea, a sore throat, blistered, itchy skin, blurred vision and nose-bleeds are all part of a day's work for me.
Yesterday, my boyfriend dragged me to a local doctor. I'd been vomiting and feeling like death for 24 hours following a long stint at what I call 'the enamel factory', in Sydney's western suburbs, where I've been spending an increasing number of days (and nights) putting the finishing touches to the last of my commissioned Dangerous Career Babes.
The doctor's demeanour as he peered into my ears, nose and throat and listened to the faint wheeze in my lungs was a grim reality check: "It's simple," he said. "You have to stop using enamel immediately. The risk of cancer is very high." He drew four vials of blood from my arm and organised for me to have a series of x-rays and a respiration assessment done.
I'm unlikely to stop using the medium any time soon. I still have at least a dozen large paintings I want to complete. But once they're done, I'll immerse myself in other, less toxic media for a while. It might be interesting to delve again – as I did to some extent in my Venus In Hell watercolours, three years ago – i
nto what lies beneath the brittle, shiny, candy-coloured surface of my my enamel works.

7 comments:

Jaime Lyerly said...

Wow, that is crazy! I have never really thought that any materials would be so hazardous that the doctor would say "stop using now." I hope you can find a medium to express yourself while you break from the enamel.

Thanks for sharing this.

Jaime Lyerly

JenXer said...

I am really, REALLY concerned about this. I don't want to wake up one day to read your obituary- you are younger than I am, and should outlive me!!

Are there any additional protection measures that can be put in place, if you absolutely can't stop using the stuff yet?

Lauren said...

In all seriousness, could you use acrylics and super gloss them up with varnish? I know it wouldn't be quite the same but at least you would have the rest of your life to moan about how crap it is.

Danielle said...

Or oils with a shit load of Liquol No4-it doesnt dry as hard as enamels but u can acheive a very similar gloss..hope you feel better soon.x

Anonymous said...

Are you using respirator masks, gloves and tyvek coveralls? As a small girl I remember the stench of my granfather coming home from work. He was a boat painter and used the most toxic marine grade paints and resins. But at 87 he's still strong and healthy. A testament simply to covering up and being diligent. There's no point in 'suffering' for your art, health comes first. That old romantic idea is well tired, especially in light of ways to avoid chemical contimation. It's a bit like smoking or asbestos poisoning. Excusable fifty years ago, but not today.

katehughes said...

Anonymous it's not as simple as covering up and protecting yourself. The protective clothing, gloves and masks can be so detrimental to the ability to do the work that the whole exercise becomes pointless and you may as well not bother painting.

Bobby Shen said...

No need for a sacrifice of health! By the way, are there any of your works on exhibition in Auckland?

Cheers
Bobby