Strength Is What Happens When You TRANSFORM PAIN.
Hello, I’m Kate the Artist and I’d love to share a story about strength, healing, and transformation. It took a long process but I learned that strength is what happens when you transform pain and for me this unlocked a mindful journey into exploring balance.
“Everyone should consider his body as a priceless gift from whom he loves above all, a marvelous work of art, of indescribable beauty, and mystery beyond human conception, and so delicate that a word, a breath, a look, nay, a thought may injure it.”
What I was born with went undiagnosed for too long. Though my mother had complained multiple times to my pediatrician about leg discrepancy and limping, the doctor said I was within normal limits, but by age three I had adapted to walking on a totally dislocated hip. Unaware of how much this would provide a foundation to build strength, I was set on an uneven path that lead to finding myself.
At three and a half years old I met a pediatrician who discovered the dislocation through x-ray. Within ten days of that I took my first trip to Boston Children’s Hospital and was labeled with, left hip developmental dysplasia of infancy, now completely dislocated.
To begin the process of correcting this deformity I had open reduction, femoral shortening, and innominate osteotomy within the first year.
At six years old I had a severe reaction to the anesthesia during one of my surgeries, leaving me in a twenty-two day coma.
My kidneys and liver failed, I had three blood transfusions, and life expectancy didn’t look good, but miraculously I opened my eyes after three weeks. I remember the feeling of crusty cement sealing my eyes shut, and the incredible relief when they finally opened!
My care team at Boston Children’s Hospital said that my recovery was an unexplained miracle.
Grandmother, Mother, and Father by my waking side, Boston Children’s Hospital, 1994.
Over twenty surgeries between the ages of three to thirteen in addition to a hip replacement at twenty six, and a few more surgeries since then, has been a test to my strength. I still cannot use my left leg for its intended purpose, instead I use it like a tail to accomplish tasks on one leg. The physical pain I experience has its lessons, like reminding me every moment of how the body works as a whole and how one part of the body affects the whole, just as each human affects humanity.
“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave reflection.”
~Leonardo da Vinci
At thirteenth I had what I thought would be my last surgery. The Doctors said that a hip replacement may be needed when I was much older, but they gave me confidence that I’d be walking for the rest of my life. Assuming can deliver a tough lesson though, and my left hip was replaced in 2013. Realizing that what we know about the human body is just a small drop in what seems like a vast ocean, I have found that we often put too much demand on Doctors.
The next few years were filled with emotional extremes that went from feeling the freeing joy of walking to debilitating sorrow when I lost that. . . But little did I know of the experience, growth, and opportunity that was hiding in these extremes.
After my replacement I felt liberated for a short time. With physical limitations lifted my range of mobility felt astonishing. That was until the feeling was brought down by my femur stress fracturing around the hip replacement. It was on such a micro-scale that a normal x ray could not detect it, even though my pain radar had! I waited a few months before receiving a scan that showed the anomaly, and it would still take more time to come up with a plan of action, all the while daily life became a greater challenge.
Strength, 5″x7,” Prismacolor Pencil on Strathmore, 2018.
It was not easy finding doctors who could help me and I am grateful to find the ones that did. Aware that the surgery may not guaranty the desired results, I was excited to finally receive a plan of action, and proceeded with having a permanent metal rod with screws added to my femur. We hoped this would support the bone enough so that I could walk while the fracture healed.
A little time passed and though there had been no clear sign of the fracture healing, I was able to walk until a screw broke. A few more screws were added to sturdy the rod, but I struggled more after that surgery.
Later another procedure was done in which an additional rod was added so that the entire length of the femur was protected, but the result of that surgery was not what we had hoped for either. This is most-likely due to the hip and femur never developing properly from the trauma it’s been through since birth. No matter the reason, utilizing the experience provided a spark that ignited learning so much more than ever anticipated.
Growing up I had always compensated for my left hip by shifting the weight of my body and favoring the right side, but living life completely on one leg was a different problem to solve.
During this period of uncertainty I feared that for the rest of my life I would be immobile, in pain, and depressed. It seemed like I was slowly losing the strength and capability to preform daily life tasks along with other activities I loved. Undergoing this course opened my eyes to the attachments that I held in defining who I was. Detecting that I was building a resentment towards my body, I saw it affecting and reflecting in many other things. I began to understand how much I disliked myself and that needed to change. However I still had not reached my breaking point and it’s incredible what can happen at a breaking point.
Detail from Transformed Creation, 2018
Trying to keep up with the things I used to do on two legs had a harsh impact and after a couple of years the battle with balance and overcompensation was depleting. I was too proud to let go of my outer strength and admit that I wasn’t as physically capable or as strong as I once was. That’s something I wasn’t OK with. Life was so painful and draining that the thought of things getting worse as I aged was terrifying. I felt like I had been robbed of my prime years. Feeling deprived and ashamed I did an out of character thing, I asked for help. Not to anyone or anything specific, just out load in a private moment of despair at my breaking point.
Nothing immediate happened, but later I realized that that moment was a turning point. For the first time I had asked for help within rather than looking for it on the outside. Finally it was crystal clear that I was attaching the concept of a successful career and life to the success of my mobility. I recognized that nothing good would happen if I didn’t change my outlook on life and I learned to break free from the cycle of defining happiness based on the demands of culture, society, and other outside influence.
Gradually letting go of more distorted attachments cleared my view and opened profound room for so much, including following a passion to paint.
My work started in 2017 when I revisited a childhood goal and little did I know the magic that would take place from doing so. Inspired by the works of so many great Masters in Art, I now had the will to create a “Master Work” of my own. Being introduced to George Stubbs, Horse Devoured by lion (1765) and Henri Fuseli’s, Nightmare (1781) during High School was something I had never forgot.
Though I didn’t understanding why until later, it was those two paintings that influenced the content for my first two pieces, Balance (2017) and Revival (2018), giving birth to The Master Work Series. Embedded with various lessons that hold keys to the mind’s many doors, painting remarkably grew into something more than pursuing a childhood goal. It blossomed into my life’s work and matured into functional art that, like puzzle pieces, connect and serve a united purpose.
I did not know what I was doing when I started painting and had not intended to create a series. I just let go and went with the flow. Granted, it wasn’t until I started looking into the unconscious reasoning behind what I was painting, that I began to recognize symbolism and color as a rich underestimated language packed with insightful lessons and truth. The series has been one of my greatest teachers and helped wake up a stronger level of endurance within myself. It’s taught me that the integration, rather than the suppression, of pain bears powerful transformation.
Detail from Transcend, 2018
I found immense comfort when I came across work by Carl Jung, whom is credited with founding analytical psychology. Finding out about the concept of the collective unconscious shocked me because it gave reality to a thought I had as a child, and now I was able to put the concept to the test with my paintings. It wasn’t long before I could appreciate the concept being utilized as a tool to help others.
Diptych Omnipresence, December 2020
Through envisioning the rest of the series I learned that the subconscious speaks an exotic language. One that often uses metaphors with symbols and color to communicate. It’s tailored to our individual experience but also provides a connection to the collective. I can understand the benefit of using archetypal images because of their relationship with the collective unconscious. They can help the viewer ignite a spark to know oneself and in turn get to know humanity though the journey.
Looking at the world through a new lens was wonderful just as much as it was troubling. I saw that much of the content in today’s world seemed designed to persuade thinking, and it was encouraging to realize that work I was creating could do the opposite and help free thinking. I wanted to share with others how exploring your mind is like exploring an advanced forgotten technology that you hold the keys to. In understanding how images have an influence on the subconscious I began to form a mission. The Master Works evolved into a series of paintings that embody various historical and philosophical references in addition to psychological symbolism, to help shed light into the darkness of the mind. Complimented by quotes from great philosophers and more, the Series shares thought provoking concepts with the use of archetypes that can help unblock subconscious strains for those open to it. I’ve learned the vital worth in knowing yourself and that your strength can sift through any substance, uncovering buried aspects that have been forgotten.
Detail from Subconscious Strength, 2020
The process of painting the Master Works not only became a journey into the mind but it coincided with an exploration into balance that generated transforming results. The physical pain I experience has not changed and I don’t know if I’ll walk again, but my mind frame and how I cope with adversity has drastically expanded. I would say coming up with the titles for each work was a synchronicity rather than a coincidence; for the first painting in the series is, Balance, while the second painting inspired by, Nightmare, was transformed into a Revival, paving a path that leads to becoming Balanced, which is also the title of the last painting in the series. By reviving the mind and utilizing it as the incredible tool it’s intended to be, you can see that in the darkness of the unconscious mind there is more there than things we don’t want to face. Things like deep strength and compassion. Life changing things.
You will be surprised how Strong You Really Are. . . and that’s what I like to call, The Self’s Sweet Secret.
Without making a sound Art is Louder than the Lion.
It is substance for the soul.
~ Kate the Artist
“Obstacles cannot crush me; every obstacle yields to stern resolve.” ~Leonardo da Vinci