A little over 10 years ago I was invited, along with 170 fellow artists from the fine art and skateboarding communities, to contribute to a benefit art show where we were given a blank skateboard as our canvas. Having enjoyed the fantastic art that graced the emerging skateboard scene of the mid-’80s, my mind was filled with excitement at the possible directions I could take.
The more I considered the primarily vertical proportion of the space I had to work within, though, the more I started to feel artistically claustrophobic and confined by the extremely narrow width of the board. Rather than hindering me in my progress, I allowed the feeling to sort of take over the project, and what emerged was something much more personal than I had anticipated putting out there. I painted my son.
James was 3 when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but I purposely painted a young boy with adult hands. The diagnosis was bigger than his little body and would be with him as he aged. I pressed my fingers into the dark red oil paint and created identifiable fingerprint stains, representing him having to continually prick his fingers and having his identity synonymous with a disease. His face shows an ever-glowing glucose monitor display that reads the date and time of his diagnosis as well as his blood sugar number that day, once the doctors were able to get numbers low enough to read. Always glowing, always on, diabetes never sleeps. The organic background texture behind him is a replication of dead pancreatic tissue under a microscope — the sign of a nonfunctioning pancreas.
After I finished the piece, I was surprised at how personal it had become. The final painting had captured the intensity of my struggles and fears of being a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes.
The process had been cathartic and allowed me to express the thoughts and feelings that were present in me at that time when things were still fairly new and overwhelming. Having had years now to consider and deal with these emotions, I see more clearly that as much as I have wanted to take all of the pain and struggle away, those very challenges have been what shaped and strengthened our family through the years. And they’ve shaped my son into the strong and compassionate young man he is today.
Following the charity auctioning of the skateboards, we were surprised to find this one shipped back to us. A friend of the family had heard that I was disappointed giving up the artwork and surprised us by purchasing the painting and mailing it to us so we could keep it in the family. At the time the above photo was taken of James holding the board, I had a wonderful opportunity to share the personal meaning behind this artwork and let him know it was his to keep if he wanted it. He smiled that sweet James smile and said, “Thanks, Dad!”
It remains my favorite and most rewarding artistic endeavor to date.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.