July 13, 2013

Saintly Teeth and an Ungodly Mess

Some time ago, my friend and fellow artist Lee Malerich suggested that I should try to integrate my medical experiences into my art. Lee had done just that with her cancer experience. It was a way of creatively making use of daily experience - no matter how strange or disconcerting. So I followed that advice at the time and created a good body of work; mosaics of charts, satirical icons, and a number of paintings.

There was an odd dental experience that I had thought of including in the health inspired art work at the time but never did.. It was just too weird. The experience was an adverse reaction to a local anesthetic at the dentist’s office. One thing the anesthetic did was make me extremely giddy, so that I was beginning to make rather bizarre jokes for the amusement of the dentist and his assistant. I proposed an idea to the dentist that we could create a sideline business to generate income from his Catholic and/or Orthodox patients. ( Pardon me for sounding politically incorrect here but these were things I was saying under the influence). I suggested that I could design small tattoo like images of saints, apostles and other holy figures that the dentist could then etch onto patients’ teeth so that they could smile with holy grins. I followed this suggestion with irreverent laughter. The dentist, not quite picking up that I was hopelessly looped, laughed with me. What followed was a bit of a mess that landed me in the Emergency Room, which is probably why I chose to forget that little hallucination instead of committing it to an art work.

Lately I have been reworking old drawings and making new ones of my studies of fossil bones and teeth. Recalling the odd experience of the saints on teeth hallucination from a safe distance, I was curious about just what superimposing images of icons on the teeth would look like. Using reference material from my book on Russian Icons as well as the Book of Kells, I drew images of saints, apostles, and the Virgin Mary on my drawings of shark’s teeth and the teeth connected to the fossil remains of a mandible. This was a challenge because the teeth on the mandible were rather small, making this drawing a collection of miniatures. But nevertheless, the animal versions of Mark, Luke and John are there as well as the child Matthew. The larger shark’s teeth gave me a little more room to maneuver, with more detailed images of the Virgin Mary and two saints. I carried the toothy theme of this drawing right through to the decorative border, which was completed with rows of variously shaped teeth.

The drawing turned out to be not only a recording of a past event, but a harbinger of what was to unfold in the week following its completion. For now I find myself yet again in the position of having to be in the office of an endodontist and scrambling to find an alternative to local anesthetics. Acupuncture? Short term general anesthesia? Meditation? A stick to bite? Or perhaps it is now time to invoke the patron saint of teeth and the art of dentistry.

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