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Ted Meyer

Written by Ysmay on .

Meet Ted Meyer.

Ted won his first art show at age 6 after copying a flamingo that one of the older kids drew. The guilt of this image appropriation has followed him ever since.

Ted started painting for real in 1987 when a friend gave him some paint for Christmas with a card that read, "You keep saying you are an artist, paint!" Seven months later Ted sold 8 of the 11 paintings exhibited in his first show. Since that first show Ted’s work has been displayed in museums on 3 continents. 

Ted talked to us about his career, and being an artist in Los Angeles.

We understand you were into art as a kid, but when and why did you start taking art seriously?

I always knew I would do something with art when I was grown, but as a kid I really didn't know what options there were. My Dad was a great artist and he never did anything with it. He went to The Studio School in New York. He would draw every night before he went to bed, but that was it. He would never show his work.

While in high school we had career day, and Herb Lubalin, the designer, came to speak. That really gave me a direction. I ended up getting a BFA in Graphic Design, but while I was in school I took as much figure drawing and silk screening as possible. I came out of design school with a good all around arts education. My design work has always paid well and that gave me time and money to do fine art.

How do your parents feel about your career as an artist? Are they supportive or is it a touchy subject at family gatherings?

I wanted to go to F.I.T. in New York or S.V.A., but my Dad was very adamant that I get a full four year liberal arts education. He left college after two years because of WWII, and I think he always felt he missed out. So, they were supportive, but they didn't want me dependent on it.

Structural Abnormalities by Ted MeyerStructural Abnormalities by Ted Meyer

We love your series Structural Abnormalities. It was based on your own experience with Gaucher's disease, correct? How did the idea for the series come about?

That series came about with the convergence of a number of things both mental and physical. I was 32. My hips had fallen apart because of the illness. I was walking with a cane and I would fall increasingly while taking a step. At the same time, a new drug had been developed but it was very expensive, at almost a quarter million dollars a year. I felt very trapped by my situation. I felt guilty about the cost of the medication. I kept trying to justify that cost. My medication costs could pay for three teachers a year if the money was spent differently. Those paintings depict that feeling of being trapped by my life. Constant pain, financial worries, immobility, and questions about my own value as a person.

What is Gaucher's exactly, and how did your art help you handle it?

Gaucher is an enzyme deficiency. In some ways it is like a diabetic not making insulin. I just do not produce one enzyme. That missing enzyme can, at times, cause enlarged organs, deterioration of the bone, anemia, fatigue and in the past, death. It is different from person to person. It is very rare, with only about 6000 cases worldwide. That added to the isolation shown in the skeletal painting. I grew up knowing only one other person with Gaucher Disease and she died at 21. I grew up assuming that was my fate. I'm now 54.

I think the art helped me handle my condition because it was a natural flow outward from internal pain to paper or canvas. When I was a kid I would do artwork in the hospital and incorporate IV tubes and bandages into my art. Making creations about my life situation has always been an easy mix for me. I've never tried to hide that I was medically a bit different.

Having an illness really gave me a subject for my art. My art is about the body. Paintings, prints, photos. They all focus on the body, and I have, what people tell me, is an unusual comfort around people going through medical issues. I really think everything has led me to this place in my life and this subject artistically.

Broken Back by Ted MeyerBroken Back by Ted Meyer

Tell us about your work Scarred For Life. Why did you decide to start using other people's scars instead of focusing on your own?

After my hip replacements I was pain free for the first time since I was 5 years old. The new medication took away many of the other effects of the illness, so at 34 years of age I was basically a new person. All the pain and frustration that went into my Ted-centric paintings was gone and I needed a new direction. I was still painting but they were all painfully happy and colorful. Full figures. People interacting. Very sexual, but with no core direction.

Then one night I had a few pieces in a show in Beverly Hills. A beautiful woman in a wheelchair rolled into the gallery and I was completely taken by her beauty and attitude. She had on a long gown with a low cut back leaving a long scar from an accident completely visible. She had not thought negatively about showing her scar. In the following weeks we had several long talks about our art. She had been, and still was, a dancer. She was very adamant in her belief that I should continue with work about mobility and illness. I listened and agreed with her assessment that is was still part of me. The next night I did a print of her back scar and started drawing into it. A month later I showed the print in a show and the reaction was different than anything I had ever experienced. People came up to me and started to tell me about their scars. They were pulling down their pants, pulling up shirts and telling me their survival stories. It became clear that this work moved people in a way no other work I had done had.

Scarred for Life is described as a series of monoprints. What is a monoprint, and how does the technique lend itself to the series better than photography?

Monoprints are individual prints in a series. Each one is different. I put ink on a person and make a print right off their body. Every time the ink rolls out it is different, so each print is different. Other artists do drawing with ink right on metal plates and put it through a press. Though the images might be similar none are exactly the same. Plus in my case, I detail all the prints so you have two different variants in each piece.

Though I do take photos of my models with ink over their scars, I do not focus on the details of the scar. There are other artists doing work about scars and the mutilation to the body. There are several women doing work about breast cancer. It is all very valid work, just with a different focus than mine. For me, a contact print that captures the scar and skin texture is a very personal thing, and very sensual. It was pressed against the body. It is the exact same size as the scar. My photos also show the scar models with colorful stripes or patches on them. They are more of a celebration of survival than a document of destruction.

Spina Bifida by Ted MeyerSpina Bifida by Ted Meyer

How did you find subjects for Scarred for Life? "People with interesting surgical scars" doesn't seem like the kind of thing you can put out a want ad for.

I have never advertised. I only accept donated scars. Often people see them on display and contact me, or friends urge their friends to be part of the collection.

My feeling is that a scar is a very personal thing and some people might not be ready to confront, deal with, or publicly share their scar or story. It seems that people find me toward the end of their mental healing process. They are ready to let someone else see the scar, touch the scar and they have come to terms with the reality that it is there to stay, so they might as well do something fun and creative with it.

Often people tell me that they never imagined anything good would come from their scars but they love the idea of it being art, and they hope that getting their story out will help other people adjust to their new scars.

Scarred for Life book is for sale here.

We are big into tattoos here at MetroSeeker, and love your Exploding Tattoos series. Where did the idea for the series come from?

Exploding Tattoos came out of a conversation with my girlfriend and sometimes art partner Anna Stump. She is a fantastic painter. We were discussing how to merge our traditional painting techniques into the hipper-lowbrow-street artwork we see around LA. We also talked about art collectors and how people who collect tattoos are really the modern art collector. They have favorite tattoo artists, they like different styles and subject matter, just like someone walking into a traditional gallery and buying something off the wall, except they become the wall.

Since we didn't want to change our style to to be "hip" we thought maybe we would just find tattoos we like and expand them using our painting style. We work with our tattoo model and come up with compositions that show their tattoo off and then we expand the image or theme onto an 9x9 foot background. Anna is a very fast painter so she puts down the broad strokes and I do the details. Then I take the photos. All through the process we have the model get into position and we adjust their pose until everything blends. Normally it takes about 3 hours. We have done these in our loft and live as performance in galleries and museums both here in the US and in Europe.

We have a book of our images here.

Did you know painter Anna Stump before you started working on the series? What are some of the joys and challenges of working on a series with another artist?

Anna and I dated about 23 years ago. Split up for 18 years and found each other again about 4 years ago. It is really nice working together because we are both very project-oriented people. We both do a lot of curation and paint in series. The frustration was finding a project that blended our styles. We tried one series where we passed painting back and forth, and I was really dissatisfied with my work in that series. This tattoo project seems to be a good fit for us.

With everything you've done so far, do you feel you're running out of ideas? What can we expect to see from you next?

I have started a business ArtandMed.com. I'm using my work with art and my years dealing with the medical community, both as a patient and artist, and giving talks and doing workshops with patient and medical groups. I am also the Artist in Residence at UCLA Geffen School of Medicine. I do a number of things there including curating shows that line up with the core curriculum so the med students can see how patients vent their medical stress and experiences into art. (Gallery Website is http://www.medsch.ucla.edu/LRCGallery)

Right now I am also painting a series of Horrific Bible Stories.

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