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Gayle Curry uses art to cope with her parents’ cancer fights

January 8, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Orbs of purple, black and white swirl together in one of Oklahoma City artist Gayle L. Curry’s favorite paintings in her new exhibit “Unknown Origins.”

“This is my mom’s leukemia. When she was diagnosed by the doctor we’re seeing now, I asked if they had any imagery — because they have to look at it — and this was hers,” Curry said to The Oklahoman , describing the canvas she titled “Cancer picked the wrong Mother (Phyllis Curry, mother, fighter & leukemia survivor).”

“When my life became about cancer three years ago . I just wanted to find out more about it. And I had some images that were just really incredible, these microscopic and then 3D images. . I saw the beauty in it. I saw that such an ugly thing can be beautiful. And that’s life. It’s paradoxical. It’s good and bad, beautiful and ugly.”

For the artist, coping with the complexities of cancer has become a necessary survival skill. Her mother, Phyllis Curry, learned in 2015 that she had leukemia. The following year, her father, Pat Curry, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“It was my way of dealing with it ... so, towards this, last year was when I started creating this body of work. It was kind of after Dad passed that I decided I was going to do something. I was toying with the idea of something to kind of honor him and honor Mom with the fight that they’ve had. And then I have 18 relatives that have had cancer,” said Curry, whose father died Feb. 5, 2017.

“Everybody knows somebody. Nobody is untouched by cancer is what I’ve discovered.”

After studying the microscopic images of her mother’s leukemia, the artist said she looked online for similar imaging of other types of cancer. She found that same uncanny, lethal beauty in each one — and a way to use her penchant for expressing herself through colorful abstract artworks.

“When they take pictures of the cells, they’re colorless. So, they use very bright dyes to show the difference between healthy and cancerous. So, I took a lot of liberties with the colors — because they did, too,” Curry said. “I feel like it translated. It felt natural. It inspired me.”

Curry’s “Unknown Origins” is on view through Feb. 9 at the Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum. Marissa Raglin, director of museum experience, said she wanted to show Curry’s signature encaustic paintings because she doesn’t think many Oklahomans are familiar with the ancient technique that uses melted beeswax in lieu of more traditional paints.

About a year ago, Raglin said Curry contacted her with specifics for the show: a selection of encaustic works inspired by microscopic images of cancer cells.

“I thought, ‘Wow, what a challenging and massive undertaking.’ There’s so many emotions tied to it,” Raglin said. “She processed this challenging topic and put forth very beautiful, very thoughtful work. . I think absolutely it’s been a success from the feedback we receive from our guests.”

Curry named her smaller paintings after friends and relatives, who have battled cancer, indicating whether each person has been taken, is a survivor or is still fighting. She used encouraging quotes for the titles of the larger works.

“I feel like it’s one of my successful shows as far as touching people. . I had no idea how it would be received, but that wasn’t the reason I did it. ... I did it for me, basically,” she said. “There’s such a paradox, that Mom and Dad, even though we’ve had this terrible thing, there’s been some really amazing moments we’ve had because of it.”

Curry’s mother underwent a bone marrow transplant with her twin brother, Phillip Barnes, as her donor. She spent two months in the hospital and another month living with her daughter, but Phyllis Curry is now back home in Cromwell. The recovery is expected to be long, but she is supposed to be cured of her leukemia.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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