The Concussion Diaries Terri Riendeau
January 10 - June 8
“I suffered a serious concussion in April 2017. Alice fell down a rabbit hole; I just fell on the floor. The doctors forbade ‘reading, screens of any sort, and complex thinking.’ For the first four months I couldn’t even listen to music. I wondered if I might go bonkers – and then I wondered if that was complex thinking. Without the capacity for the usual distractions, I found myself in a quiet world of color and composition. In some ways my sensory experience was stripped down, but in other ways it was heightened. On the daily walks required for my recovery, I noticed every detail of spring in New Jersey – leaves unfurling, vines encircling, the patterns in moss – with a piercing intensity.
At the suggestion of a friend I started painting. I had spent a lifetime deeply engaged by twentieth-century American artists and poets. My icons were the two Helens of New York, Frankenthaler and Levitt, and the poets Robert Hass and John Ashbery. At various points my artistic energy went into making photography, writing poetry and weaving, but I had always considered painting off limits. The concussion eliminated my silly, self-imposed restraints, and painting turned the disaster into discovery.
My limited faculties when I started painting freed me from spending any time thinking about why I was painting and what I was trying to say with my work. Two of my paintings, Charlottesville and Categoría Cinco (Maria) are direct responses to current events, but the others are explorations of technique, color and form. Asking myself now about the why and the what, I am reminded of a talk I went to by the photographers Laura McPhee and Virginia Beahan. In response to a student who asked about pursuing a career in art, one of them said, ‘If you don’t need to make photographs, you won’t.’ I am still finding my way as a painter, but I can say for certain that I need to make paintings.”