“Alice in Wonderland” was always a story that artist Alison Silva related to as a shy, whimsical child wanting to go on otherworldly adventures.
Silva’s life ironically shares more similarities to the Lewis Carroll book since being diagnosed with a cavernous malformation, a tangle of small blood cells that borders the left temporal lobe of her brain. Her brain lesion is dangerously close to her memory and language centers of the brain, and increases her risk of seizures.
The visual distortions and hallucinations she occasionally suffers, or the over-exaggeration of colors that her condition has caused makes life almost like living in the book, said Silva.
Silva, 34, of North Bergen, fell into depression after hearing her diagnosis in 2006.
When she did resume work a year later she found her art work was more highly sought after. Silva was commissioned for pieces before, but for the first time she has been able to sustain herself on art alone, with future projects that include a children’s book, C.D. covers and art shows.
Her doctors are “50/50” about the effects surgery could have on her recollection, creativity and language, and they also aren’t positive if the seizures and migraines that Silva suffers from would intensify.
She is currently taking part in a study on the influences of epilepsy and migraines in art at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Australia. Silva intents to weight the deceison to have the surgery carefully, since it could negatively affect her art and her health.
“I think it definitely has been a blessing in disguise,” said Silva. “It’s teaching me to speak up. It’s like there is this new voice inside of me.”
Transformed by art
Silva said that she was always an artist, but that the diagnoses tied together many difficult transitions in her past.
She said that one of her first lessons in discipline as an artist was in third grade, after moving to Long Island from Queens, N.Y.
“Everyone was drawing these beautiful paintings of gorgeous grapes [in class], so I rushed through… [and my teacher] said ‘if you think grapes are complicated, well there is the door,’” said Silva.
Silva moved a lot with her family. She moved to Florida with her mother, where she said she had another “spiritual awakening of sorts.” She wound up rebelling during that time.
Silva’s mother was from Honduras, while her father was from Chile. When she was 13-years-old she was sent to Chile, along with her sister, while her parents worked out their divorce.
“Chile was the place where we learned the “no’s,” said Silva. “Imagine living in a country town with Pacos and machine guns. It’s dangerous.”
Silva went on to attend the School of Visual Arts, but mainly “dabbled” in photography and sculpture before leaving school.
She moved to North Bergen around seven years ago. While being commissioned for pieces, even murals around her neighborhood (like one on 77th Street and Broadway) she worked at Dinosaur Hill, a puppet shop in New York City.
She said that her paintings were inspired by the shop, filled with eastern European puppets, marionettes and children.
Throughout her life Silva suffered migraines that increased in intensity by 2006 to the point she felt the need to seek the advice of a doctor.
Reacting to a gut feeling, Silva went to Palisades Medical Center to undergo a CAT scan. She was transferred to New York Presbyterian Hospital where she was diagnosed.
“It’s a scary feeling just knowing that there is something growing or just sitting in there and you don’t know when it’s going to do its thing,” said Silva.
“Would you do the surgery if it was right by your memory and language?” – Alison Silva
That anxiety, and other hardships Silva went through, kept her from painting. When she did pick up her brush she felt that she had “become a phoenix.”
She said that her new paintings still hold many of the same themes and symbols, but have become more complicated.
“A lot of the rebellion and humor have begun to show,” said Silva.
She painted “The Goddess of Malestrom” for Alex Goetchius’ upcoming book “Max and the Siamese Twins,” along with 60 other artists.
The project hits home, since Silva is battling with what her future decisions will be and with herself.
Study on Silva
Silva hopes that the study she is taking part in leads to a new discourse on her condition.
The study will look at artists across the world, who suffer from epilepsy and migraine-related health issues and their art.
One of the study’s activities included creating a drawing in 15 minutes without erasing anything, a task that Silva found difficult. Another question, finishing an unfinished piece, she found more interesting.
She hopes that the study will find correlations between artists who suffer from some of these brain-related issues and their creativity. So far she has found the experience empowering since for once she is one of the many talking about her health issue.
Silva’s future projects include designing art pieces for East Bay Ray’s upcoming C.D., upcoming shows like Westhampton’s “Outsider Art,” and focusing on her good days.
She may undergo surgery in a year or so if her headaches become too much for her to bear, but doesn’t want to undergo surgery “right now;” instead she is focusing on her creativity since it is the “closest thing” to her.
“If it was in a different location I think I would have said yes,” said Silva. “Would you do the surgery if it was right by your memory and language [function] and you might lose your voice? The unknown for me has always been scary, but it’s beautiful at the same time.”