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Drawing Inspiration From Pain, an Artist with Gaucher Disease Thrives

Ted’s Story

It is difficult to find one word to describe Ted Meyer. He is an artist, writer, photographer, designer, and teacher. Ted Meyer is also an individual with type 1 Gaucher disease. After hearing Ted’s life story and viewing his work, perhaps the word that comes closest to summarizing the man is inspirational.

Ted began producing artwork in the mid 1980s, when type 1 Gaucher disease was affecting him. By the early 1990s, he was in near-constant pain. His paintings from this period sprang from the anxiety and suffering borne of his debilitating illness. Although his artistic horizons have expanded since those early days, Ted continues to include disability as a theme for some of his works.

Art as Medicine
When 5-year-old Ted began to experience bone pain and excessive bleeding, his parents and health care providers readily identified the cause as type 1 Gaucher disease. Ted’s older brother had been diagnosed with the disease previously, and the hereditary nature of the condition was well known. An enlarged spleen is common in individuals with type 1 Gaucher disease, and physicians removed Ted’s spleen in the first grade. “This alleviated the bleeding I had,” Ted said, “but immediately, I started getting bone crises.”

Ted credits his illness as his artistic muse. “One of the main themes of my artistic expression stems from this disease,” he explained. During his hospitalizations for Gaucher-related symptoms, a hospital volunteer traveled around the children’s ward pushing a cart stocked with art supplies. “I got comfortable doing art around medical things,” Ted said.

The Ted-Centric Era
Ted’s bone degeneration and pain escalated over the next few years. He started painting seriously shortly after college, “when I was very sick and my legs caused me constant pain.” In the early 1990s, physicians recommended a hip replacement. One of his friends had recently undergone hip replacement surgery with a terrible outcome, and Ted was not certain he wanted to go through with it. “I struggled with whether or not to have the operation,” he said.

Ted’s internal debate took shape in a set of paintings completed during that time, the “Structural Abnormalities” series. Each image contains a solitary skeletal figure trapped in a box. In some, the figure struggles to break free; in others, he contorts awkwardly within his constraints. The colors are dark and bold, the brush strokes assertive. There is nothing serene about these paintings. Ted refers to this early period of his work as “Ted-centric,” reflecting a low point in his life.

Better Health, Brighter Art
Around age 34, Ted had his right hip replaced. Shortly afterward, in 1996, he started treatment with Cerezyme® (imiglucerase for injection). Since then, his symptoms have improved. A problem with his initial hip surgery left him in excruciating pain, requiring repair. This time he had bilateral replacements.

Just as Ted’s darker emotions took over the canvas when he was severely ill, a brighter outlook emerged in his art following improvements to his health. “The healthier I got, the more my art changed, especially in terms of colors and imagery.” He transitioned to using lighter colors and whole figures interacting with other people. “I stopped wanting to do stuff just about me,” he said. During his convalescence from surgery, and unable to stand for extended periods to paint, he branched out into photography.

 
Figure 1   Figure 2

Although Ted elected to move beyond self-exploration and Gaucher disease in his works, he revisited the topic for a show at the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons in 2007. As adjunct pieces to the Structural Abnormalities series, he painted “Silver Hips,” in which squares of metal stand in for hip bones (Figure 1).

A friend persuaded the artist not to totally abandon ability/mobility as a theme in his work. Challenged, he created a series entitled “Scarred for Life, Monoprints of and Documentation of Human Scars,” chronicling people’s physical scars of life-changing events with monoprints, photography, and personal stories.

More Than an Artist
Ted has worked with children in various hospitals. He feels suited to it and “very comfortable being around kids in a hospital.” Ted also operates a full-service design studio called Art Your World, (Figure 2) in Los Angeles, California, that designs print pieces, logos, and websites, and handles programming, illustration, and photography. He has written and illustrated four books.

Ted is also an active and accomplished lecturer, speaking to medical and patient groups about his experiences. For example, Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, engaged him to speak to first-year medical students. The artist lectures to highlight the twin progressions of his artwork and his health. He points out how his art transformed as his health improved and he began “making plans to live.”

Although Ted makes light of the health crises he has endured, joking that his “football career” is definitely over, coming to terms with his body was difficult. He has traveled the same long road that is familiar to many patients with Gaucher disease. Yet, even during his worst days, he found a way to turn his pain into something positive.

Ted serves as an inspiration not only to people with type 1 Gaucher disease but to anyone whose life has been affected by chronic illness or trauma. His story and his paintings demonstrate that a debilitating disease need not rob life of its vibrancy. You can view Ted’s paintings, scar work, and photographs, or contact him for speaking engagements at http://www.tedmeyer.com.

 

 
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