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.