Surgical scars aren’t generally regarded as visually appealing, yet Los Angeles artist Ted Meyer redefines this visual taboo, creating an object of beauty, and aiding in the healing process.
Meyer’s mono-prints are taken directly off the skin of various subjects. He accentuates the details of a scar with gouache and color pencil, transforming a symbol of suffering into a cathartic portrait.
Now comprising more than 60 prints, Meyer’s show "Scarred For Life" travels to museums and galleries nationally and internationally and is currently on display at the Mor York Gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles.
Meyer says he is usually approached by his subjects, who contact him after hearing about his project online or via a medical institution.
“I document the upheaval of people’s lives—the record of that are the scars on their bodies, ” he says. “I’m documenting that exact moment when their lives changed.”
Having suffered from Gaucher’s disease at an early age, Meyer is not merely a spectator or ghoulish voyeur; he has endured first-hand the pain of surgery and its psychological ramifications.
“Most of my early artistic career focused on me. I used to do a lot of painting and drawings about pain and mobility, ” Meyer says. “For years I was quite badly effected by Gaucher’s disease, though artistically I had never thought much about my own scars from multiple joint replacements and a spleenectomy.”
He found inspiration for his current series after a chance meeting with a wheelchair-bound former dancer in 1998.
“I realized I no longer had anything to say about my medical condition, so I should make statements about other people’s lives and conditions. Maybe I’d become a documentarian.”
Meyer realized scars can mark entering into or out of a disability.
“Going from cancer to health, limited mobility to full movement, they freeze a moment in time. My hope is to turn these lasting monuments, often thought of as unsightly, into things of beauty.”
Now, Meyer says he will keep on adding to this collection for the rest of his life, though documenting scars is just one component of this project.
“One of the most important things I do is talk to patients, medical students and doctors; it's an evolving assignment. I am the first artist in residence at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.”
In addition to creating his scar art, Meyer also talks to med students about what life is like for long-term patients.
“There isn’t any medical application directly related to my scars project, but I do work with med students on the impact of long-term recovery on patients,” Meyer says. “I talk about patient and doctor interaction. I use the scar stories as well in these lectures. I also curate art shows based on the curriculum they are studying.”
In addition to his touring Scarred For Life exhibit, Meyer recently installed a show matching work done with electron microscopes by both researchers and artists. He has also started a business with an art therapist that marries his perspective as a long-term patient and that of a learned therapist.