Written by: Susan Bates
As serendipity would have it, Jude Ogden first put brush to canvas a short six months before her breast cancer diagnosis in October, 2011. Struck by the horrific prospect of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, painting became her shelter in the storm. Her first acrylic, rife with rage and scarred with scratch marks, portrays a ship caught in a chaotic tempest of anger, fear, and sadness. The canvas was a safe place to vent.
In fact, it was her salvation. “I tend to want to protect the people around me, so I keep all the negativity inside, she shares. “The canvas is a place where I can let loose and explore my feelings.”
The night before surgery was particularly trying, and she painted late into the night. “Sleep doesn’t come easily with a double mastectomy looming,” she confides. Her painting marathon zeroed in on the depth of emotion surrounding her impending loss. While the circular and oval shapes in her first canvas bear a striking resemblance to mammary glands, they could just as easily be colossal teardrops drowning in a pool of sadness. .
The second painting gives the impression of an androgynous dancer in the foreground and a feminine profile fading into the distance. The profusion of circular shapes on the primary figure could be interpreted as cancerous cells, while the allusion of dance seems to suggest hope for a successful outcome to surgery.
Jude practices a unique form of intuitive or expressive painting because of the peace and relaxation it brings her. “I start with breathing techniques and relaxing the body,” she discloses. “Next I write words of inspiration on the canvas—mainly emotions that come to mind—and then I paint over the text and apply various colours to see what matches.” She tends to use the canvas as a palette and mixes paint directly on the surface of the painting. What an original and playful method!
And it is with this method, that she painted The Warrior. Subsequent to surgery, Jude had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy followed by extensive radiation. “I saw myself as an African warrior, fighting a battle with courage and conviction,” she reveals. And that strength of spirit shines through in this vibrant and exuberant impressionistic rendering. The primal colours and wildly expressive brushstrokes illustrate a driving force determined to survive and flourish.
As chemotherapy progressed, Jude felt compelled to paint an archway of sorts. She was transitioning from one stage of life to another and used the painting to assist her in the journey. “I find the piece very mystical,” she comments. “I see fairy-like creatures hovering around the interior.” The mixed-media work is a gorgeous interplay of complementaries with an air of optimism. As the signature work for her upcoming Exhibit: “Black to Gold: A Passage from Despair to Serenity”, The Passageway forecasts a state of peaceful acceptance as the ultimate result of her trials.
Radiation exemplified yet another hurdle in her ordeal, and there were questions about whether it would be effective. She drew up a list of pros and cons beforehand and later incorporated them, as cut out ovals and circles, in this exquisitely collaged Bra Armour. The piece depicts the radiation substrate molded for her breast to target radiation to specified regions. Once again, Jude employs creativity to transform trauma into a stunning work of art.
And when the entire ordeal was over—it wasn’t over. The aftershock of depression, inevitable after a loss, was almost too much to bear. At that point, a counselor recommended art therapy and Jude enrolled for a full year. Painting became her focus, and she was able to reclaim her life. As the year progressed, her artwork became more peaceful and serene.
Five years later, it has become celebratory. “People say that cancer is most likely to recur within the first five years,” says Jude. “And so far, I’m in the clear.” Time to break out the champagne! This mixed-media piece celebrates health with swirling ribbons, and a bottle of bubbly. For Jude, life beyond the passageway has brought her the unexpected gift of joyous self expression that she wants to share with other people. “Creativity and art can bring a lot of peace. It can ground you. When I’ve completed a painting, I feel renewed and nourished,” she explains.
Jude’s decision to exhibit her work comes from a desire to help women who may find themselves in a similar plight. She endeavors to demonstrate the healing aspects of art and encourages others to explore creativity as a steppingstone to health.
Please stop by the opening reception for “Black to Gold: A Passage from Despair to Serenity” on March 3rd from 6 – 9pm at the Beaumont Studios Gallery, 316 E. 5th Avenue. Entrance is by donation with silent auction proceeds going to The BC Breast Cancer Foundation and Inspire Health.