It is a Friday afternoon and I'm at the small, round table in the Art Saint Louis gallery with Muriel Eulich and Mary Ellen Havard sitting across from me, pleasant and willing to expand upon their exhibit "Waiting" currently presented at Art Saint Louis (through October 4, 2012). What follows is a snapshot of what I learned from them that afternoon:
“What was the goal behind "Waiting," an exhibit dedicated to breast cancer?”
Muriel: “We wanted to tell the truth, for the public to look at it and learn something, but not be put off. With my paintings, I hoped to deliver something alluring to the eyes with the message of truth, while not so shocking that the audience fears coming close and examining the content. Look, learn, and see the bigger message. I wanted this to happen while retaining my love of color to express these scenes.”
Mary Ellen: “I wanted to capture the real human experience of breast cancer. When the audience starts squirming in their chairs as they read, that’s when you’re hitting the truth. The more real the writing is, the closer it gets to the truth, that’s when the reader really connects and becomes present with the text.”
|Muriel Eulich. Show and Tell. Watercolor on Paper, 15"x23".|
“Speaking of your text, Mary Ellen, can you go into more detail about your writing process?”
Mary Ellen: “The best writing is based on what you know. And when you do that, there’s a story. So there’s an unlimited pool of things people can write about.
A part of my story is that I will be treated for breast cancer the rest of my life. No good news came with the initial diagnosis. Couldn’t sleep, nor eat. Cocooned myself. In the middle of the night, I would write what I was afraid of and put it on the dresser. Then went back to bed and put distance between the fear and myself. Just kept going and eventually these writings lead to my co-authoring a book. Writing became my emotional therapy and will continue on, because there is no cure for cancer, so the treatment will never be complete.”
|Muriel Eulich. The Colors of Cancer. Watercolor on Paper, 59"x40".|
“Mary Ellen, your line in "Colors of Cancer" has left a big imprint on many readers, could you expand on your thoughts behind that particular piece?”
Mary Ellen: “Colors of Cancer" was a snapshot of my life at the time. ‘The real colors of cancer for me are shit brown, puke green, necrotic black, blood red.’ I was just so angry, sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was a nun in my past, but right then I just wanted to rally against the pious talk and mollification I had to face on a daily basis. I understand now that most of the different emotions and actions stemmed from the same source. The cakes, cards, and books from my loved ones as well as my anger and resentment all materialized from the fear of the situation. I learned it’s very difficult to just sit there and be quiet support when you know a loved one is suffering; you have the urge to do something to try and make them better. Although I was angry with it all at the time, now I see it was just their way of displacing some of their fear for my health.”
“Did fear play any role in Waiting for you as well Muriel?”
Muriel: “Mary Ellen and I were vulnerable to do an exhibit like this. Cancer is scary for a lot of people out there. In the end though, to share the experience with others, I don’t look at that time as difficult, but as a gift because I learned so much.”
|Muriel Eulich. The Call. Watercolor on Paper, 15"x23".|
“Mary Ellen, what were your reactions to Muriel’s pieces as the exhibit developed?”
Mary Ellen: “I saw it in stages. As it came together, two paintings stood out and I really got a sense of what their subjects are going through. Muriel’s Waiting and The Call took my breath away, as someone with breast cancer and who will be going through treatment the rest of my life. I can really identify with those moments she caught on the canvas. Overall, her pieces relay the actual perspective of breast cancer. These are real people; these are not models. I’m actually in one of the pieces, receiving chemotherapy. The reality of the show really hits me every time I look at it.”
|Muriel Eulich. Waiting. Watercolor on Paper, 23"x30".|
“Finally, I’d like to wrap things up by learning how has the feedback been for you two since the show’s opening?”
Mary Ellen: “I think a card I received in the mail just really wraps it all up in one sentiment: ‘your vulnerability helps heal us all’.”
Muriel: “Both Mary Ellen and I have received really kind feedback, including women and men who have never been exposed to breast cancer on a personal level. In another instance, I received a phone call from a woman who finished treatment three years ago. She thought "Waiting" was wonderful, not hard to look at in any sense. Also, the night of the opening, a woman came up to me and said: ‘I just had to be here, I just had to see all of this.’ She was like an angel present in that moment. The show meant so much to this woman that she had a friend drive her out, although she was in the midst of treatment. She embodied the show, with streams of bright colors clothing a body fighting breast cancer. She just shined, such a positive light that showed real joy while looking at Waiting. This woman really left an impact on both Mary Ellen and me, especially since we still don’t exactly know where she came from or how she had heard of the show.”
Both Mary Ellen and Muriel were smiling and bright through the whole conversation and made the couple hours I had with them fly by. As I reflect on the time "Waiting" is no longer on view at Art Saint Louis, all I can do is hope we are just the first stop on its journey to the public; for there is so much yet to learn from the show and the women behind it.
“Waiting” is presented at Art Saint Louis August 13-October 4, 2012. Gallery is free & open to the public M & Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tu-Fr 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sundays & holidays. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO. 314/241-4810. www.artstlouis.org
View highlights from this exhibit and our opening reception in our Facebook album.
Diane Reilly is currently serving as Fall 2012 Intern at Art Saint Louis. Diane is a Junior at Saint Louis University with a double major in Marketing and Communications Design