Marja-Leena Rathje
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Anne Adams' art


Over the past three days, I've read two fascinating stories about Vancouver artist Anne Adams who died in 2007. First I read Boléro: Beautiful symptom of a terrible disease in the NewScientist.

Today, I'm looking at the Vancouver Sun's page and a half feature on this remarkable woman. (The web version is a short one.)

It's a tragic yet inspiring story of a former University of British Columbia scientist who came down with a rare brain disease later in life, a form of aphasia and dementia that produced spurts of artistic activity. She abandoned science for art, producing a large body of work, most notably Unravelling Boléro, a bar-by-bar representation Ravel's Boléro (shown above).

Scientists who monitored the progressions of the disease found fascinating new details of how the brain rebuilds other areas to make up for damaged ones.

And here's the jaw-dropper: Ravel is thought to have suffered from the same condition, which may have drawn him towards repetitive patterns such as the themes that cycle through Boléro. Adams was unaware of this, and of her own condition, while working on her painting.

We can find out more about Anne Adams and her work at her website, including the Book of Invertebrates which was honoured with a full page in the Sun. In addition the Patient Art Gallery website of the Memory and Aging Center of the University of Califormia at San Francisco has some lovely examples including the above image.

With some family history of dementia and Parkinson's, I sometimes worry what might happen to me in my old age. If I were struck by this disease, will I turn from being an artist into a scientist? Seriously.

Marja-Leena | 09/04/2008 | 10 comments
themes: Music, Other artists


Another co-incidence- I came across this same artist earlier this morning via another blog- and like you was fascinated by the story and the work!

Heh. Seems more likely your art would change in some way. I remember reading about an artist who used to produce these very meticulous geometric works and then, after having a stroke, turned out these gorgeously fluid impressionist pieces.

Beautiful piece above. I'm always fascinated with repetitive works. I blogged about an exhibit of "obsessive art" some years ago.

Wow! This is fascinating. I'm rushing off for a couple of days right now, but will follow this up on my return. My father had a series of strokes just before he died a few years back, and did not recognise anyone, nor was he able to talk nor communicate, but he started ordering things around him, and fell upon a Rubicks cube when I brought one to the hospital having seen him playing with screw tops etc. He was able to solve that to the amazement of the staff. The brain is a baffling beastie!

HI Dijanne! Thanks for dropping by. I keep seeing this story in many places now.

Leslee, I hope you're right!

Olga, yes, the brain is quite amazing and still such a mystery.

And Dijanne, I forgot to say, I thought of you, your research and some of your own work in seeing this piece and some of her others. Patterns are such a big part of ethnic/folk art, aren't they?

Isn't it beautiful though? But sad, no matter what came out of it.

Yes Lucy, she certainly created a lot of beauty as she succumbed to this disease. And scientists learned a few new things about the brain as well.

What an amazing story. I guess I've always hoped art could see me through illness, misfortune, or old age and I bet it will do that for you, too, since you are so much more practiced in it. Of course one's art would change, but that could be pretty interesting - the thing is to have something to do that's absorbing and comforting, even if we get to a point where we can't think about it the way we do now. I find this story encouraging; thank you.

Beth, thanks for the comforting vision, hope you're right. I can see myself going back to crayons and coloured pencils!

This is so interesting! thanks so much for the links. I'm not sure that I find it sad at all, really. She didn't appear to find it sad herself as far as I can gather from the articles. The brain is such an incredible thing!

Hi rr, you are right, it's not so sad as it is inspiring. Last night I watched the movie 'Iris", about Iris Murdoch's story of succumbing to Alzheimer's - now that was sad!