Also known as absence seizure, phantom pain is a medical term which describes the actual sensation of pain in a missing limb. It originates in the brain and spinal cord, and seems to be something like nerve memory. That is, the pain is present and real, but the source is not visible; the limb is gone. My husband Bill, who lost his left leg, suffers with this condition. I feel we are living in a time of phantom pain as well, both personally and as a society.
There is something about the way those nerve endings retain that sharp sensation and produce a feeling out of seemingly nothing, that reverberates with me as a painter. Not that I am trying to paint pain, but rather that I am aiming to paint with ‘my nerve ends at the tips of my brushes’, as the painter Tom Knechtel has described my work.
Painting has the capacity to encompass and express a multiplicity of sensations at one time: time present and time past and time bent. Time in a painting is cyclical. Traveling in a painting is not linear, and one must be willing to take the time to travel. Painting also embodies this place: the seeming contradiction between the thick stuff of paint, (in all its finite opacity as the record of a mark having been made), and the volatile space or movement being suggested. Just like nothingness, or empty space, which is actually filled with energy, and vibrating with electromagnetic fields and so-called virtual particles dancing in and out of existence (as cosmologist Lawrence Krauss describes it), so also our phantom thoughts and sights are connected to sensations and events which may not be visible to the naked eye, but are no less real and recordable.
Painting is a way of investigating―with urgency but also with curiosity and pleasure―and of traveling the territory of those powerful and often momentous physical and emotional stories that are hidden in plain view, all around us, and inside us.