My paintings explore hope and fear through my experience of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Layers of color, gestural marks and forms emerge from a state of pain and hold the emotional tension that is found in times of uncertainty. They are energetic and frenetic paintings that lie at the intersection of abstraction, sculpture and landscape loudly nestled between reality and dream.
Each day holds a unique uncertainty for me. The mobility in my body can be limited in range through the right side of my frame, neck and feet. It can be viewed as detrimental to the process of my art-making but I let it guide my work. The marks and forms created by the layering of oil paint are specific to my body’s abilities each time I’m in the studio. People with EDS face a daily struggle with the thinning of the proteins and collagens that hold their bones in place; joints painfully slip out of place as the glue that holds them together thins. And for this reason, my work is a ritualistic process of countering this thinning, this disappearing, by adding layer upon layer of thick paint to each panel.
I am painting as a meditation on being present with my body and the marks are guided by the intuitive movements that will free me from my pain. The qualities that appear in each landscape are beyond ornamentation and carry the life force of color, line and texture in bright candy colors carved with old clay tools. It’s a cacophony of a vibrant life force that can only be made by being present to the pain and bittersweetness of life as I navigate through each day with EDS.
I channel my energy as I work with the limited motions of my body to create a separate body of material on each panel. As I push through the day’s physical limitations to invoke a life force energy, each painting becomes a manifestation of what it means to find flow and intuition as a means of survival. I push at the boundaries of oil paint while I push the boundaries of my body’s physical capabilities. Through this work, I hope to demonstrate one example of how the body can navigate the limitations imposed on it from EDS in order to live a fully creative life.
And although I speak of my personal experiences with EDS, I find myself among a community of women artists also navigating living fully creative lives with limited mobility and chronic pain. Our lack of knowledge and proper treatment of EDS and other medical conditions affecting the lives of women is insufficient and channeling my energy into my artwork is often the best medicine available to me. I understand the privilege of living in Los Angeles, a major city with some of the world’s best doctors, affords me with closer accessibility to specialists than those living in suburban and rural parts of the country and I am concerned with the ways these communities receive education and treatment for the same medical condition that I experience. For this reason, I want my work to be seen by the EDS community as an alternative means of treatment, a form of self-care, and a form of resistance and healing in response to the ways the government regulates women’s bodies, access to health care and education. By wielding my control over the paint as I explore my range of motion and flow of creative energy, I tell the story of hope and fear through a chaotic dark underbelly.
Dena Novak is an oil painter whose work examines the emotions of hope and fear in times of uncertainty. Her energetic, frenetic paintings lie at the intersection of abstraction, sculpture and landscape loudly nestled between reality and dream. The paintings are thick, viscous, and sometimes carved with her old clay tools. Novak’s subjects reflect colorful landscapes with a dark underbelly that tell the story of her emotions.
Novak studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and received a Masters of Arts and Teaching with an emphasis in ceramics from Tufts/Museum School of Fine Arts, Boston. She grew up in West Rogers Park in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dr. Justin Ayers and her two daughters, Penina and Batsheva.
TUFTS University (The School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) - Masters of Arts in Teaching
Colorado College in Colorado Springs - Bachelor of Arts in Art Studio and Comparative Literature
The Art Institute of Chicago - Extensive Training
(1994-1997) Bridgwater Raynham High School in Bridgewater, MA - Director, Art Department
(1998-1999) Sokolowski School in Chelsea, MA - Teacher
(2003-2005) 92nd Street Y in New York, NY - Assistant Director, Art Programs
(2009-2013) Hamilton Hebrew Academy in Hamilton, Ontario - Director, Art Department
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