Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Thrill Is Gone

I've decided that the large enamel paintings I'll complete over the next several months will be my last in the medium with which my reputation as an artist has been so closely associated for the past decade. I've taken an extended break from enamel several times before. Now I've commited to abandoning it completely.


Last month, my father died of multiple myeloma. It is an aggressive cancer that can be directly related to "environmental factors, including job-related exposure to metal, rubber, wood, paint, solvents, leather, fertilizers, pesticides, or petroleum products." Witnessing the rapid, agonising erosion of Dad's physical capacities underscored the risks I have taken for too long, with too little protection.
Enamel's acrid vapour is toxic and potentially carcinogenic. I also work with solvents and chemical drying agents. On an average day in the studio, I suffer breathing difficulties, nose-bleeds, nasty skin rashes and blisters, and burning eyes. I've persisted, ignoring the likely long-term damage to my health.
One of my favorite artists, the German sculptress, Eva Hesse, died at a similar age to me after stubbornly refusing to stop using latex and plastics in her work. And three years ago, I wrote with candour about the risks I accepted working with enamel, quoting a chilling summary of likely ill-effects from a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
"Eye and throat or lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, and vision problems are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some chemicals. In professional painters who are exposed to high levels of paint vapors for long periods of time, some chemicals in paints have damaged the nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Some chemicals cause cancer or reproductive and developmental effects in laboratory animals."
I'm done. About a dozen enamel paintings already commissioned will be delivered over the coming months. I will also complete a handful for myself, including the final works in two series, Dangerous Career Babes and Big Pin-Ups.
By the end of 2011, my studio's enamel output will have stopped for good.

18 comments:

JenXer said...

I am so glad to hear this. Here's to good health! [raises a glass]

Cynthia k. Agathocleous said...

Hazel,

I am so happy to read that you have made this decision for yourself and your art! I am looking forward to seeing new incarnations of your work in other media in your many healthy years to come!!! ♥

Donna Heart said...

yes - we'd like you to hang a round a bit longer and keep making art please - not ready to have you leave us any time soon.. and we honestly wont mind if that means in a different medium xx

Leila Anasazi said...

Congratulations. And best wishes. The enamel pieces are striking. Your works in other media are amazing, inspiring, luscious; I am delighted to learn your choice to care for yourself, and continue working.

RoByn Thompson said...

I am delighted that you've made this choice. The posts that you made about the side effects had made me concerned for you. We need to choose safe materials so that we are able continue to do what we.

em said...

sorry to hear about your dad hazel. here's to the end of enamel for you and for anyone else smart enough to get the 'big picture'. -em

Peta Smith said...

I have used a lot of enamel in my work, but I have begun to replace that with acrylic and then varnishing the work. It has a very similar effect to high gloss enamel. All the best.

Dave C. said...

Happy to hear this Hazel. I've always felt the desire to write to you and ask you to get away from the enamels, but always felt it was your decision. There are plenty of other mediums out there that don't have these side effects and I'm sure you will become the Queen of one of them. I look forward to seeing which way your art goes. I'm sure it will be amazing.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Good for you, Hazel. It's the right health decision, and interesting to see where your art takes you next.

Anonymous said...

that is wonderful that you are going to stop this dangerous constant exposure to toxic chemicals and give yourself a chance to stay well and live long.

wishing you a long and happy life

Tina Mammoser said...

Good for you! I'm sure what will result will be just more experimental and fantastic work. We artists are masochists. I had to give up most solvents after chemical burns last year. Can't wait to see what comes next from you!

Lea said...

hej hazel,
of course it is a little sad, but terribly good for your body.
I do like the image you placed there. In some ways the finish will change and the work might not have to same impact, but the step you take will bring new aspects in your work that have not been explore yet. The feminie sensuality always remind me of a river, quite subtle the change, the bed has been changing all the long the years bringing every days new visions of her creativity.
best wishes, lea
ps. you might also found yourself less depressed, those solvents are lethal, often affecting dangerously the liver also.

Anonymous said...

latest piece reminds me of Peter Blake's "Babe Rainbow"


Hugh

Alyson B. Stanfield said...

This is good news. No artist should risk her life for the sake of art. As romantic as might sound to do so, it's not worth it. You have a full life to live and lots more art to make.

Kirsty Hall said...

Hazel, I can't tell you how glad I am to hear this - the effect of enamel on your health had been bothering me but I didn't want to be a concern troll.

Meltemi. said...

I notice that you do not mention the quality of your studio's ventilation. How can you loose the thrill of your medium?

Hazel Dooney said...

Actually, Meltemi, I have described my studios in great detail. You clearly have not read mufh of this blog. And I'd rather lose a medium (as you put it) than lose my life.

metallipreziosi said...

As artists we make many choices/sacrifices in the name of our art. Some are worth it - keep using a medium that is detrimental to your health is not.

I like enamels, that glossy, clean finish. But in the end it's just a medium, it doesn't define you or your art, you define it.