ARTXV Artist from Virginia, Caroline McGehee, conquered obstacles in her life to illustrate a world through ADHD, Dyslexia, and Chronic inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. Through paint and pain, the neurodivergent artist’s heart speaks on canvases.
“The relationship between my perspective of the universe and my artwork is raw. Being disabled ties into the art I create and reflects how I see the world while using my memories,” McGehee said.
Uncovering her passion for art in the second grade, McGehee began immersing herself in a plethora of artistic outlets that would cultivate her career in the art industry, fueled by her creative vision and unforeseeable future.
McGehee found her talent and inspiration from an enthusiastic elementary school art teacher who had been battling an autoimmune disease herself. McGehee recalls creating a pottery bowl of the ocean floor where her teacher’s encouragement of putting personability and energy in art set McGehee’s course to pursue neo-expressionism and abstract, eccentric pieces.
To McGehee, art was beyond a school task. Art was magical.
“After discovering my passion at such a young age, I would stay up all night long drawing, I never got tired of it,” McGehee said.
While school was the place of inspiration, school walls were never a sanctuary for McGehee. In navigating bullying and unaccommodating school systems during her diagnosis of Chronic inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP) in sixth grade, McGehee would face unyielding emotional and physical trials.
“My experiences guide me in my execution of painting,” McGehee said. “Colors have emotions, I feel the emotions of my memories and experiences and let them guide me through a painting, what to do next and what color to use.”
In her battle with CIDP, McGehee became temporarily reliant on a wheelchair and unable to walk as her immune system attacked the nerves in her ankles. Undergoing numerous treatments and plasmapheresis, McGehee even endured arm and face paralysis.
McGehee underwent this cycle for two years in search of a treatment.
“Even though I couldn't move my arms, I could use my thumbs. Being able to distract myself with my original iPod Touch gave me hope to do art digitally with bootleg softwares, but it was the thought of finding treatment that made me dream of taking art seriously,” McGehee said.
McGehee’s dream pushed her to pursue exactly that.
While still in her wheelchair, McGhee’s mother took her to a craft shop where they co-created a piece entailing the word ‘inspire.’ With her hand too tired to finish the piece after creating its abstract background, her mother helped finish it to McGehee’s vision.
Still in her possession, she smiles every time she sees it in remembrance of her mom helping her complete it.
“Using my arms is a gift, I want to be able to do what I can and express myself in the medium that I favor most, which is painting,” McGehee said.
With intermittent chemotherapy McGehee was in remission by 2015. Beginning to stand within a month of her first six treatments, McGehee learned to walk again by using her walker around the house and outside. She started to walk her dog and even learnt how to ride a bike again, yet she still doesn't have the use of her ankles and has to wear ankle foot orthotics.
Naturally, painting played an instrumental role in her recovery and propelled her to walk again while being her outlet to unpack trauma. McGehee says this outlet led to her favorite style of art, neo-expressionism.
In working both with neo-expressionism and abstract expressionism, McGehee was inspired by her life and environment to mold a story behind each painting.
“I have a set story or inspiration behind why I created each piece but I want my art to be personal to the person,” McGehee said. “That is why I like neo-expressionism, it is raw, in your face, vibrant, and capable of being personally interpreted.”
McGehee shares that her favorite composition she has created is Appeal To Heaven, an abstract piece of how America’s systems have continued to silence minority communities. With respect to her passions of debating, educating, and having philosophical conversations about America’s unjust systems, the painting acts as a metaphor for the nation's corruption.
“My art is for everyone at the end of the day but my pieces aim to speak for inclusivity and silenced communities while giving others a vision of what certain systems in our government do,” McGehee said.
Painting in this manner helps McGehee decompress, tell her story of the things she is passionate about, and serves as a reflection of the world around her. Employed through themes of vibrant, saturated color palettes, McGehee said, “My favorite part about being an artist is the colorful visions I see in my head before painting because when I finally see it on my canvas, I am just radiating.”
Being neurodivergent, McGehee feels multiple emotions at once and has a niche for hyperfocusing on things that help fabricate her artworks. It is her gut feeling, however, that helps determine when a piece is complete.
When asked about her thoughts before touching a blank canvas with paint, McGehee shared that while she faces anxiety in re-living hard times, after she begins painting her vision suppresses the feeling and replaces it with enjoyable contentment.
“I just get lost in the paint,” McGehee said. “My experiences reflect in my art as a very messy aesthetic which shows how my whole life has been and felt.”
McGehee has no desire to contribute to a capitalistic society in receiving ‘buttloads’ of money for her artwork. Rather, she simply wishes to be a known genuine artist and advocate.
“I wish more people knew the authenticity and dedication of us artists and the actual emotion I put into it,” McGehee said. “It’s very personal and not something you can replicate without understanding certain experiences.”
As an empathetic, personal, and creative soul, McGehee finds herself in tune with the world around her and executes her neurodivergent lens of it with the help of a brush. McGehee hopes the audiences of her compositions find curiosity, comfort, and personal interpretation within the artworks.
“If there is one thing I hope people remember, it is my art and I as a raw story, one that is metaphorical, eye-catching, meaningful and personal” McGehee said.