Agora artist Linda Rosen paints bright and colorful cityscapes of a world that swirls with joyful exuberance. Her style was born following the discovery of a brain tumor in 2002 and the life-saving surgery that followed.
Previously, she painted monochromatic nude women, but post-surgery she found herself to paint with more freedom and experimentation. We spoke to Linda about her experience, how she overcame it, and how it influenced her art.
Linda Rosen’s artworks will be on view at Agora Gallery from July 7th through July 27th as part of The Figure and Unknown Places group exhibition. Ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of the artist’s works will be donated to Mount Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery for research on brain tumors.
Please tell us how you found out about your illness.
I started having very bad headaches which my doctor described as tension headaches. I was prescribed pain medication which helped me feel better, but then I noticed that I was beginning to lose my sense of smell. On November 6, 2002, I had to leave work because I was having the worst headache ever. I can remember getting about halfway home, and then, nothing…
Luckily, someone who had been driving behind me called 911. I woke up in an ambulance totally disoriented. At the hospital, they found I’d had a seizure, and with further examination, they discovered a tumor in my brain. Within a week I met with Dr. Joshua Bederson, a brilliant neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He removed a baseball-sized tumor that was attached to the olfactory nerves, which is why I was losing my sense of smell. He removed the whole tumor sparing my optic nerve by 1 centimeter. I remained in the hospital for about a week. I still take seizure medicine as a precaution.
How did it affect you emotionally?
I was terrified, but a friend of a good friend came to see me. She had the same thing four years before and was fine. Seeing her and speaking to her really gave me the confidence that I, too, could get through this.
Did you continue working as an artist while in treatment?
For many years before the discovery of the tumor I suffered severely from headaches, so my art kind of got left behind. I was very depressed and doubted I could focus on creating anything. After months of therapy, I decided to take a class in ceramics, something I had never done before. I became so engrossed in hand-building the clay and thinking of designs that I became quite accomplished. But my real love was painting, and I felt afraid to start again.
How was your style of work affected?
I became much more free and experimental with the paint. Before the surgery, most of my work was of monochromatic nude women. I joined a class and with the help of a wonderful mentor and teacher, Grace Graupe-Pillard, I discovered who I was as an artist. Now my world is color and movement and fun.
How do you feel your recovery was affected by the fact that you are an artist?
I was an artist and that was who I was. I was very determined to get back to painting; every day I would wake up and truly feel the miracle that I was alive.
Tell us a little about your experiences at Mount Sinai Hospital. Was art part of the healing process?
My doctor worked as a sculptor and we shared our art experiences. Most of the time, however, I was so medicated that all I did was sleep.
Are there art-related programs that are incorporated into the treatment?
I did not personally avail of any but I know there are art therapists that can do wonders with traumatic experiences. For me, as I was an art teacher prior to becoming a full-time painter, I did work with autistic and emotionally ill students. Art can open a whole new world, a new way of expression and communicating feelings. It is of the utmost importance to keep creativity and art in any curriculum.
How did it feel to get back to working as an artist following your illness?
It was so liberating — I felt like a new person who was creating in a unique way. I became so immersed in my work and I think the fact that I was alive gave more meaning to my work and being able to express myself.
Did your art help you to manage and overcome your illness?
My art was my lifeline. I spent hours creating and exploring innovative ideas, and I believe that the art took away a lot of the time that could have been spent worrying about my illness.
Please tell us about the challenges that you are currently facing and how you are overcoming them.
I find it difficult to figure things out now. My memory is affected, and words are sometimes hard to find. I used to get very frustrated with this and I still do have major mood swings, but I compensate and am just thankful that I was given another chance to live.
If you could give one piece of advice for artists, or anyone recovering from a serious illness, what would that be?
Never give up. Always believe that miracles can happen, and you will go on perhaps to be even better.
I dedicate my recovery and all the great care that I was given to the Department of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, specifically, Dr. Joshua Bederson and Dr. Isabella Germano.