Art Therapy

Community CorespondentSeptember 17, 2013 

For Wendy Denton, photography is her therapy. She began snapping photos in her 20s as a way to fight against obstacles she was facing. Now, Denton and her husband, Ken West, are using photography together as a form of therapy in West's fight against pancreatic cancer.

When West was diagnosed about 15 months ago, doctors thought it was operable. However, when doctors began surgery, doctors found a lesion on West's liver and were forced to reverse their earlier prognosis — his cancer was inoperable.

"It was shocking," Denton said.

West had never really experienced any symptoms. His blood sugar had been off and that lead to tests that resulted in the dreaded news.

After a few tears, though, Denton and West decided they weren't going to face this obstacle sitting down and instead decided to face it in their own unique way.

"We pledged to be conscious and awake throughout this journey together and have been creating photographic images of feelings, ideas, sadness, humor, and outright fun along the way," Denton said.

Denton said the idea came to them not long after they learned of West's condition and soon their creativity began to flow.

"I really wanted to do it in a way that wasn't morbid or sad and in some ways quirky and cliché," West said.

So, the photographic images began with their very own version of Julius Caesar with a crown of syringes. Since then, they have depicted everything from West's reaction to hearing he had cancer to his "Path of Liberation." In this image, which is West's favorite, he is depicted walking up a hill into a blue sky.

"That was my initial epiphany," West said. "All the years of study all fall away when you're faced with mortality. Realizing, at some point, that you have to go on alone without the books and knowledge — crying and whining doesn't help."

West said his background in Zen Buddhism and Tao has helped him learn to flow with whatever comes in life.

Being able to be free in that and to know it's happening and becoming free in the experience — this is my last great experience and I want to be participating in it, not hiding from it.

Denton said West is a willing model, no matter the creative situation she creates for him — even if it's standing shirtless in the midst of 1,000 mannequins at Mannequin Madness in Oakland.

"Ken has been an actor for years," Denton said, laughing. "He's a wonderful subject."

However, Denton knows it's not always easy.

"It does take bravery to share these private thoughts, private moments, but he welcomes it as a vehicle for us and anyone that relates to us," Denton said. "Anybody knows somebody that has cancer, so this can resonate with a lot of people."

Denton said the creative process has both eased and informed them through the journey they're currently facing.

"Getting spontaneous ideas, planning the images together, and then making the pictures themselves elevate the feelings and give a place to look at them from a distance," Denton said. "The energy generated in creative art-making is life-affirming and helps give meaning to this experience."

Wendy said their wish is that their art is also meaningful to others. When she comes up with an idea, she first thinks how to depict a thought, idea, or emotion through the photograph. Then, the next step is to think how others can relate to it.

"We hope that others who are facing cancer can see in our images messages that relate to their experiences," Denton said. "Maybe they will even be stimulated to make their own images, talk about their experiences more openly, and maybe even have moments of grace beyond the bodily bother of symptoms.

West said looking at all the images he and Denton have made together, which is about 30, allows him to see his own story.

"It allows me to see the different ways I've evolved," he said. "I've learned to be more accepting and open and move into my own fragility. I've had an amazing life and wasn't ready for it to be over, but can't complain. I've been to a lot of places, seen a lot of stuff. I'd like people to be uplifted by it. I've lived really well, have no regrets and am happy."

Sierra Art Trails

The 11th Annual Sierra Art Trails and Open Studio Tour, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Oct. 4-6, provides the opportunity to meet artists in person, visit studios, and view demonstrations.

There will be a variety of art — oil, acrylic and watercoler painting, wood carving, fiber art, photography, ceramics, sculpture, and mixed media — and plenty of artists ready and willing to speak to art lovers about their passion

The public is invited to drive to 60 homes, ranches and galleries throughout Eastern Madera and Mariposa Counties where artists will be showcasing their creativity.

The event allows visitors to purchase original fine art and quality crafts directly from the people who create them.

Sierra Art Trails is a non-profit corporation run by volunteers with a mission to support and promote working artists in the mountain communities while developing the area as an arts destination. Additionally, the group raises funds for scholarships, school art programs and community art projects.

Oakhurst artist Jonathan Bock spearheaded the original committee along with Ellen Hurst and serves as Sierra Art Trails president.

The $18 Sierra Art Trails catalog serves as a ticket for two to the event. Catalogs are available at Stellar Gallery in Gallery Row, 40982 Highway 41.

Details: Jonathan Bock, (559) 658-8844, sierraarttrails.org.

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