On the Fourth of July, 1985, fireworks exploded in the night sky of Salt Lake City. Simultaneously, fireworks were being etched upon the brain of Barbara L. Clements. On that day, she was involved in a car accident that resulted in a head injury with severe brain trauma.
"The impact was sudden but lasting," Clements said. She lay in a coma for a month. While in the hospital, she suffered several epileptic seizures. But the doctors mistakenly diagnosed them as anxiety attacks. Clements said that it wasn't until three years later that the attacks were accurately diagnosed as complex temporal lobe seizures (a type of epilepsy).Before the accident, Clements was living a normal, active life with her husband, Richard, and their two daughters, Jessica, now 9 years old, and Melissa, now 6.
From 1970 to 1977, she attended the University of Utah part-time, majoring in art. While taking classes, Clements sensed an individualistic style starting to emerge. She credits U. art professor Paul Davis with encouraging her to pursue it. Suddenly her paintings became more stylized and semi-abstract - a style that was a forerunner to her post-accident style.
Clements said that these classes gave her a foundation. It was there she learned the rules, techniques and application of media. But as a result of the accident, she now has something to say.
"When viewers look at my work since the accident, I want them to feel something of what I am feeling," she said.
She explained that effective art forms a triangle, with the three points representing the artist, the artwork and the viewer. In order for art to be meaningful, an artist must convey his thoughts and feelings through his artwork to the viewer.
Clements' paintings form that triangle. Perceptive viewers can feel the emotional quality represented in her images. It transcends words.
When wondering what stylistic direction to pursue, Clements received some sage advice from Vern Swan-son, director of the Springville Museum of Art. He told her not to paint posies and other "cutesie" pictures. He also told her not to paint for salability, but for critical acclaim. This reinforcement influenced Clements' desire to pursue her own style.
Soon, Clements began exhibiting some of these works. In 1988, one of her works was juried into the "Utah Art Extra-Ordinaire" exhibition in Springville. The following year, another was accepted in the "Utah Women Artists Exhibition" at the Eccles Art Center.
Having works in these shows gave Clements more confidence. About five months ago, while thumbing through an art magazine, she spotted an advertisement for a national art exhibition to be held in New York City. And the exhibit was open only to artists with epilepsy. She decided to enter.
She had colored slides taken of five of her paintings and hurriedly mailed them to New York. Her entries were added to about 800 works submitted by 350 other artists from all over the United States.
Jurors selected 50 works for the exhibit. And much to Clements' surprise, three of her five painting were juried into the show. But that's not all. One of her paintings, "Awareness," won first prize and $500.
The artist and her husband attended the opening reception in New York City on Nov. 8, at which time the award was announced. The show, "The Strength of the Mind," continues through November on the main floor of Citibank, 55 Wall Street. After that, the show will begin a national tour.
Clements said that November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month and the purpose of the purpose of the show is to promote awareness of epilepsy.
Douglas F. Maxwell, adjunct professor of the arts at New York University, wrote this about the show: "These are not pieces of art about epilepsy; rather it is art which happens to be done by artists with epilepsy who are compelled to express their essence through their work." He continued, "The images presented are often sad, crying out in agony, in despair - but beneath the agony is hope, a hope exemplified by the act of creation."