Portraying the Personal Side of Pain

Portraying the Personal Side of Pain


Just as pain is a very personal experience, so is its portrayal through creative expression. The artworks in this special Pain Treatment Topics gallery depict a broad pallet of pain conditions, created by patients who sometimes found that their artistic endeavors also lessened their suffering. Healthcare providers can learn from such works, for these express emotions, thoughts, and perspectives that patients often cannot put into words.

Much of the artwork below, as indicated, is from PainExhibit.com and is displayed by special permission of Mark Collen, project coordinator. Additional PainExhibit works can be viewed online at PainExhibit.com, or Click Here for the Spanish version.

Go to artwork below currently featured on the Pain-Topics.org Home page.

Patients or practitioners interested in having their pain artwork displayed in this gallery should e-mail an inquiry to:
[email protected].


Title: The Migraine

Artist: Heather Bolinder (Cape Cod, MA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on canvas; 16” x 20”
Artist’s Comment: It was one of those days and I had a bad Migraine. The blue face is how nausea felt and I was in too much pain to cry. The skeleton is how dark and miserable I felt, but the C-clamp keeps tightening. Hi, my name is Heather Bolinder and I am a chronic pain patient and an artist who paints what most people have trouble expressing. Being in chronic pain is a difficult journey, so please visit my website, see what others in chronic pain are going through, and share your story — it just might become a painting in my chronic pain gallery. You Are Not Alone! ©2012 Painting Pain (http://paintingpain.com)


Title: PonyGirl

Artist: Heather Bolinder (Cape Cod, MA)
Media/size: Acrylic on canvas; 16” x 20”
Artist Comment: This painting was inspired by Ellen. She is a chronic pain suffer and was thrown from her pony. She used to be an avid hiker, but now feels the pain of nails going into her neck. Hi, my name is Heather Bolinder, I am a chronic pain patient and an artist who paints what most people have trouble expressing. Being in chronic pain is a difficult journey, so please visit my website, see what others in chronic pain are going through and share your story, it just might become a painting in my chronic pain gallery. You Are Not Alone! ©2012 Painting Pain (http://paintingpain.com)


Title: Ripples of Pain [detail]

Artist: Dawn Koch (Yorkville, IL)
Media/size: Oil, 3-D potpourri on canvas; 24” x 36” x 1”
Artist Comment: There is hope that our rough, choppy waves of pain will smooth out even if for just a short period of time. Your pain will be manageable as long as you keep hope and laughter in your heart. Keep the tide of pain at bay. Get well my friends! ©2011 Dawn Koch


Title: Not My Body

Artist: Dawn Koch (Yorkville, IL)
Media/size: Hollow molds on canvas; 24” x 24″ x 5”
Artist Comment: My body does not feel whole any longer – it feels more like the sum of painful and damaged parts that do not belong to me. I have lost my sense of identity and there is a void where I used to fit in as a healthy puzzle-piece of life. ©2011 Dawn Koch


Title: Migraine Pain

Artist: Jennifer Dochod (Grand Rapids, MI)
Media/size: Acrylic paint on matboard; 16″ x 17″
Artist Comment: The pain from chronic migraines is multifaceted. Not only is the person dealing with intense physical pain, but often the doctor’s and nurse’s callous disregard for the person that they are treating inflicts deep emotional pain as well. The lack of understanding of the pain associated with migraines, and how it impacts every area of a person’s life, only compounds the suffering. ©2012 (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: The Eye of the Storm

Artist: A. Heather Davulcu (Yardley, PA)
Media/Size: Oil on canvas; 28” x 22”
Artist’s Comment: The torment of daily migraine took away many things from my life, but it gave me a new way to express myself. As an artist before the pain, I painted what I saw, but after the migraines I began to draw the emotions. After a while I began to paint those emotions and it provided an outlet which has been a balm. My deepest hope is that my work could speak to others in a way that words – and prescriptions — cannot. ©2007 A. Heather Davulcu (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: Defeat

Artist: Yvonne Palermo (Seattle, WA)
Media/size: Acrylic paint on gallery canvas; 48” x 60”
Artist comment: This is the moment of realization that I am forever changed. Fetal position into the ball of fear, the tender moment of losing myself by defeat. Thank God I am a strong willed, Italian, and determined to pull out of this pose. The entire healthcare system did this to me. I am surrounded by vertebral barb wire, intense pain, darkness, and pure death. Not showing my face, burying it into despair, but deep in my soul trying to pull out the person, human, soul I know. Most people would die. Frankly I say that, but it is true. When faced with hell and many narcotics the temptation is handed to you. I believe this is a moment we all have been in whether it is with pain or just dealing with life but you can relate. Never tell someone “they can’t, they won’t, they are wrong.” ©2010 Yvonne Palermo (http://www.yvonnepalermo.com)


Title: The Gift

Artist: Yvonne Palermo (Seattle, WA)
Media/size: Acrylic paint on gallery canvas; 36” x 48”
Artist Comment: The Gift, is one of my most raw and emotionally charged paintings. Its creation stems from emotions of a victim of chronic pain: physical agony, frustration, and the feeling that our healthcare system, with its aloof doctors and careless surgeons, has raped me of my gifts of life and spirit. Shunned by the medical world and seen as a drug addict rather than a victim of physical pain, there is no help to heal or to find solace from the loneliness of chronic pain engulfing me. I chose to hide the figure’s face from the viewer to play on the imagination of the viewer. There is no way to express the intensity and agony of chronic pain; it can only be experienced. ©2010 Yvonne Palermo (http://www.yvonnepalermo.com)


Title: My Last Nerve

Artist: Dawn Koch (Yorkville, IL)
Media/size: Crayon and ink on art paper; 17” x 24”
Artist Comment: The invitation to “have a seat” used to have a nice, polite ring to it, but now it gets on my last nerve. I can’t sit for more than a few minutes due to a hypermobile sacroiliac joint that is out of place at least six times daily causing tremendous pain. “Have a seat” suddenly sounds offensive and I do not have the energy to tell my pain story for the millionth time to people who do not understand or care about my condition. I had to illustrate this last irritated, aggravated nerve that words can’t express. My nerve grid that channels the pain feels like an overwhelming chain reaction of explosions with the neurons firing constantly and I can’t hide from the pain. ©2012 Dawn Koch.


Title: The Colors of Pain

Artist: Helene Ruiz (Miramar, FL)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint on canvas; 18” x 24”
Artist’s Comment: I have an ability to see “aura,” as strange as this may sound, and noticed that the colors of my pain this particular day were blues and purples with electrical waves of white, leaving and returning to my body rapidly – and they seemed to blend. This piece represents my pain since sustaining severe spinal injuries. Sometimes the pain feels like my spine is rippling up and down like a broken electrical track full of electricity.
©2005 Helene Ruiz (see more works at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/heleneruiz).


Title: Let Me Out

Artist: Dawn Koch (Yorkville, IL)
Media/Size: Craft paint / hand molds / wood; 12” x 17” x 3”
Artist’s Comment: I am trapped in this body crushed by chronic pain. I had to let go of my hopes and dreams, and now I watch from my private prison as the world goes on. ©2012 Dawn Koch.


Title: I Am… I Will… I Do

Artist: Helene Ruiz (Miramar, FL)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint on canvas; 18” x 24”
Artist’s Comment: Pain leaves us limited in mobility, and disability leaves us confused, lonely, and depressed. This painting is symbolic of these things but also suggests that the heart never stops yearning for what we once were able to do so easily.
©2007 Helene Ruiz (see more works at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/heleneruiz).


Title: The Removal

Artist: Helene Ruiz (Miramar, FL)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint on canvas; 12” x 12”
Artist’s Comment: This painting is the 2nd of a 2 part series. In this piece, The Removal, the woman has come to terms with conditions as they are, accepting her “aloneness” and her pain and new unexpected life changes. She removes her heart to hold up high without restriction nor concern of it being “seen” again, and with a pride of surviving and a plan to continue to survive. After all, how much more can they do to her heart now anyway? ©2010 Helene Ruiz (see more artworks at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/heleneruiz).


Title: Alone With My Pain

Artist: Coleen Shin (Cedar Hill, TX)
Media: Art photography
Artist’s Comment: An existence of isolation and loneliness, the feeling of waging a war against an entity who has an arsenal of pain while you, having no choice, stand naked, defenseless before the adversary. ©2008 Coleen Shin (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: Elemental Emotions

Artist: Radene Marie-Cook (California)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint on canvas; 20″ x 16″
Artist’s Comment: Earth, air, fire, and water — the basic groups of every element on earth. This painting was my way of discussing how those elements are in all of us. Obviously, it also helps me to describe how stripped down and raw our emotions can often be after we have been hurt, abused, or wronged — in bad pain management you can get all at once! The 4 sections are each uneven because, although there is something beautiful in each real thing we feel, it’s never NEAT. Emotions are messy. That’s why we should build up our spirit instead — by faith, love, and patience (OK, really our work is just holding on for dear life with all of those and the Creator does the transforming).

©2008 Radene Marie-Cook – Aniwaya Artistry (http://www.aniwaya-artistry.com).


Title: My Mother’s Hands

Artist: Coleen Shin (Cedar Hill, TX)
Media: Art photography
Artist’s Comment: Mother’s hands are knobby, swollen and painful. She is on the fentanyl patch for the pain she suffers on a daily basis. I hold her hands, rub them against my cheek. We do not speak of the pain. There is no need for words; we know the other’s suffering as if it were our own. To have even one person in your life who understands is a lifeline. We are there for each other, always. ©2009 Coleen Shin (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: Self Portrait, Green Shirt

Artist: Sterling Ajay Witt (Los Angeles, CA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on canvas; 48” x 38”
Artist’s Comment: Pain is the beginning and the end of every day for me. I have suffered from chronic pain for so long that I can’t imagine life without it anymore. As my back pain increased and the brace came into my life, I found myself painting an increasing number of self-portraits. Through them I try to express a feeling I cannot put into words, attempting to explain the torment I am going through. For me, creating art is just something I do to help me survive a life of constant pain. It’s as if the paintings have become a record of my pain, giving a face to an otherwise faceless enemy. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: The Fall [detail]

Artist: Jon Aley (Los Angeles, CA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on hardboard; original size 18” x 18”
Artist’s Comment: The Fall was painted to express a continual feeling of falling, even though my feet are on the ground. This sense of falling came from my ongoing sense of pain, anxiety, and the unforgiving nature of society pushing me down while I fight to remain standing. The feet of the figure are woven into the ground as roots, which symbolizes the strength of my connection to nature (which is like religion to me) and the confusion that comes with today’s world where we are caught between nature and a disconnection with nature around us. I often wonder how much pain could be averted if this connection were greater. © 2008 Jon Aley (http://www.jonaley.com).


Title: Home [detail]

Artist: Jon Aley (Los Angeles, CA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on hardboard; original size 18” x 24”
Artist’s Comment: A translucent figure barely held together by the world around him. A brick wall represents something I continually pushed against but could not quite get through (fatigue and pain). Ghostlike bows and arrows shot continually at targets that are intangible and end up leading nowhere. Water between the legs, which I fish in trying to find the answers within myself. © 2008 Jon Aley (http://www.jonaley.com).


Title: Shadow [detail]

Artist: Jon Aley (Los Angeles, CA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on hardboard; original size 10” x 16”
Artist’s Comment: Desperately pursuing my shadow hoping to reunite it with myself because my flesh is torn broken and distorted. The shadow itself has one arm that is almost real showing what it will do to keep from becoming me. © 2008 Jon Aley (http://www.jonaley.com).


Title: Pain in Parts

Artist: Jenny Greiner (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
Media/Size: Soft Pastels, 10 ” x 8 ”
Artist’s Comment: There was a day when all I could manage was to move stiffly, slowly, one limb at a time. Later, while painting, I recalled that day and it reminded me of the figure model on my drafting table. So I positioned (him/her/it!) into the pose my husband likes to call my “getting ready to hit the hot tub” pose. I imagined myself leaving the red searing pain, and entering the soothing blue water. ©2008 Jenny Greiner. http://www.drawthepaw.com/.


Title: Where the Pain Was Born

Artist: Coleen Shin (Cedar Hill, TX)
Media: Art photography
Artist’s Comment: My pain was born of chronic problems with my reproductive organs. After years of pain and infertility and numerous surgeries, they were eventually excised by hysterectomy. I felt useless, anonymous, completely ruined. The pain remained as if enamored of me. Internal adhesions complicated my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the “invisible disease.” Depression, anxiety, fear, mourning. Would my husband still love me this way? ©2009 Coleen Shin (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: Giving the Enemy a Face

Artist: Coleen Shin (Cedar Hill, TX)
Media/Size: Oil on heavy paper; 11”x14”
Artist’s Comment: Now it is easier. Now when I cry in my fury and desperation, when I rail, when I fight back against the pain, the enemy has a face.
©2008 Coleen Shin (E-mail: [email protected]).


Title: Face Of Pain

Artist: David Flores
Media: Water-based Paints
Artist’s Comment: I am living in unbelievable pain. To cope, I paint. I have no training so my paintings are raw. I cannot draw, and I never know how the finished painting will look. It never ends up like I first imagined. Used by permission of the artist and the American Pain Foundation.


Title: Chronic Pain – Life Distortion

Artist: Jenny Greiner (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
Media/Size: Soft Pastels, 11″x17″
Artist’s Comment: I created my vision of what would represent my chronic pain. Beginning with the “eye being the window to the soul,” I showed the clear, yet bloodshot eye, shedding the blood-stained tear. Then I realized that this whole living with chronic pain, is very disorienting. Things can start to spin out of control very easily.
This represents my pain and the distortion and confusion it brings to my life.
©2008 Jenny Greiner. http://www.drawthepaw.com/.


Title: One Year or Ten

Artist: Alayne Gelfand (Yucca Valley, CA)
Media/Size: Oil on canvas; 28” x 22”
Artist’s Comment: Ten years following my initial neck injury I painted this self-portrait; a study in the unceasing coldness that set in after surgery and the continuing awareness of the area of surgery, including a self-consciousness about the resulting scar and the residual pain. This is despair and resignation combined with a determination that saw me through many years of surgeries and pain and treatment yet to come. A kind of image of myself as a noble warrior – bow arm bared – facing the battle ahead. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Migraine

Artist: Melissa Keith Hentges (Alexandria, VA)
Media/Size: Thread and fabric; 14” x 11”
Artist’s Comment: This piece is one attempt to express the oppressive experience migraine sufferers go through. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: The Despair in Pain

Artist: Ariella Yaron (Givataim, Israel)
Media: Panda colors on paper; 19.75” x 13.75”
Artist’s Comment: The drawing shows a tormented person suffering from acute pain. The leg is oversized, since a person in pain concentrates on the aching body part all the time. Imaginary huge pliers pinch his nerves. The pain torturing him day and night, makes him feel as though he is in a mental dungeon. He is facing a black wall, as he sees no way out of his situation. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: CP III – Trapped in Hell

Artist: Mark Collen (Sacramento, CA)
Media/Size: Plaster with rebar; 13” x 5” x 4”(deep)
Artist’s Comment: This sculpture symbolizes being trapped by chronic pain. The rebar represents a prison and I am attempting a desperate escape by pushing my face through the bars but there is never an escape. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Self-Portrait of FMS

Artist: Lilly Busch (Hancock, MD)
Media/Size: Acrylic on board; 24” x 18”
Artist’s Comment: Even though my eyes do not focus, some of the muscles quiver and burn, the limbs in my body contort from pain, I push my lower lip forward, grasp a brush and paint a Self-Portrait of FMS. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Echoes of Sadness

Artist: Maureen Brown (Lakeland, FLA)
Media/Size: Chalk on paper; 17” x 14”
Artist’s Comment: Silent screams express sadness that reverberate remnants of a former life. My sadness is shown with a teardrop from a missing eye, while the other eye is closed in denial. Black repetitive lines depict my echoing pain. The red tangled mass in the forehead represents the tension, anxiety, and angst I am feeling. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Resonance: Erasure

Artist: Susan Gofstein (Chicago, IL)
Media/Size: Oil and collage; 17” x 14”
Artist’s Comment: In the fall of 2000, I developed severe chronic facial pain. This domination of pain obliterated all sense of an inner self. ‘Resonance’ began as an effort to structure and distance myself from an overwhelming existence. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: The Face of Torture Due to Unrelenting Pain

Artist: Zevin (Tucson, AZ)
Media/Size: Felt tip pen, ink pen, colored pencils; 11” x 8”
Artist’s Comment: This drawing represents the unbearable torture of upper cervical C1, C2 subluxation and the unrelenting headaches because of the locked neck and head. The head is as heavy as a bowling ball. I can no longer endure. The heat of the irritated inflamed nerves, like lightening, escapes through the top of my skull, blowing the lid off my head. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: A Stab in the Arm

Artist: Stan Cohen (Oakland, CA)
Media/Size: Acrylic on canvas; 30: x 30”
Artist’s Comment: After the harvest seasons, I experienced a new set of pains. One was a grinding in my right shoulder when I lifted my arm. The other was more elusive: a burning in my right arm, which had nothing to do with moving that arm. It was diagnosed as “referred pain” from nerves in my neck and upper spine. After some physical therapy and trial and error, I found a way of holding my head/neck so as to diminish the pain. A new prescription quieted the inflammation enough so that I can sleep, finally, and my painting arm is back in business! ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Colors of Pain

Artist: Rosemary Boehm (Westfield, NJ)
Media/Size: Watercolor; 23” x 20”
Artist’s Comment:
Greet the day with blue grey sky, and grasp the red of morning blood pulsing;
Magenta reminders repeating blasts; Burst of yellow gold, gone bile with green, growing daisies without white;
The crimson of dried blood pooling; Stormy blue sky filled with orange red sunset, and hope of blue morning just off in the distance;
White nothingness bringing such peace.
©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: CP II

Artist: Mark Collen (Sacramento, CA)
Media/Size: Plaster with steel blades; 10” x 4” x 3”(deep)
Artist’s Comment: This sculpture represents suffering from chronic pain. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Do You See What I Feel?

Artist: Dana Harrell-Sanders (Ft. McCoy, FL)
Media/Size: Oil on canvas; 20” x 16”
Artist’s Comment: My painting represents those that suffer from fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome. A person suffering with the disorders seem so healthy on the outside that others have a hard time perceiving what’s going on inside. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Crucified by Pain

Artist: Dana Harrell-Sanders (Ft. McCoy, FL)
Media/Size: Oil on canvas; 20” x 16”
Artist’s Comment: This painting represents those that suffer from Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what those of us with these syndromes feel. I hope my art expresses it to those that don’t understand. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: In the Darkness

Artist: Eileen D. Burnell (Belmont, NH)
Media/Size: Charcoal, colored pencil; 12” x 9”
Artist’s Comment: In the middle of the darkness of the day, with all its pain and frustration, shines a clear blue heart with all the love and support of my family which gives me the strength to endure. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Happy Pills Ain’t So Happy

Artist: Mark Collen (Sacramento, CA)
Media/Size: Crushed and whole Wellbutrin, acrylic media, charcoal; 11” x 9”
Artist’s Comment: It is all too common for pain specialists to prescribe antidepressants to treat pain. In my case, I was unable to tolerate the side effects from every antidepressant and the piece of art reflects this reality. ©2007 Pain Exhibit (PainExhibit.com).


Title: Silent No More

Artist: Radene Marie-Cook (California)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint with polymer clay; 12″ x 9″
Artist’s Comment: Painting and screaming have something in common — therapy! But a scream is much more than an expression of fear or rage. This one in particular is a scream of determination …of the most basic power we have: to say NO! NO MORE! We who live with chronic and intractable pain will no longer be left to suffer if we begin to speak up and say NO! we are not addicts. NO! we are not guinea pigs, and NO, NO, NO! we do not want to die early from neglect. So we DESERVE proper pain management! Like every color of a palette, we can come together and scream a united NO MORE! We will be heard and we will affect a change – eventually.
©2007 Radene Marie-Cook – Aniwaya Artistry (http://www.aniwaya-artistry.com).


Title: Fragments

Artist: Keo R. Gathman
Media: Ink and Color Wash
Artist’s Comment: This piece is titled Fragments because of the way chronic pain can shatter a person’s life into fragments of what it might have been. The S-curve represents optimism that the individual can pull those fragments back together – creating a life filled with joy and value.
I am a 49 year old female Marine Corps Veteran and have had fibromyalgia and migraines my entire adult life. In the past five years the migraines have become chronic and I also now have severe degenerative disc disease in my lumbar spine. Although I have lived with chronic pain most of my life I remained active and have enjoyed a variety of career and personal experiences. For me, creative expression via art and writing are in essence a form of active meditation. Used with permission of the artist and the American Pain Foundation.


Title: The Eradicator – Consumed by Chronic Pain

Artist: Dawn Koch (Yorkville, IL)
Media/size: Multimedia; 11” x 17” x .5”
Artist Comment: The title says it all – consumed by chronic pain. This artwork represents my daily struggle with constant pain. The only part of my body that does not hurt yet is still reaching out for help because I am not giving up. The artwork also glows in the dark representing the relentless nature of my pain 24/7. ©2011 Dawn Koch


Title: Clear Air Turbulence — Pain Series #1

Artist: Radene Marie-Cook (California)
Media/Size: Mixed Media; Size: 15″ x 12″ x 3″
Artist’s Comment: Blue and red threads of paint show the nerves in my back that got damaged the day a microburst — a really violent form of clear air turbulence — threw my aircraft out of the sky. My life is 180 degrees different than before that wave of wind hit, and the damage is much bigger now. But then, so is my patience level, compassion, etc. This painting was the first piece I did to show others a bit of what a spinal cord injury felt like. The pins and needles surrounding the paint represent the LEAST of the 24/7 pain; the metal splint where my spine was, straightened neck, and colored nerves that scream and shout endless symptoms without care. Did it work? A picture is worth a thousand words — you decide. ©2005 Radene Marie-Cook – Aniwaya Artistry (http://www.aniwaya-artistry.com).


Title: Pain — The Divided Soul

Artist: Radene Marie-Cook (California)
Media/Size: Acrylic paint with vintage jewelry and “found” items; 24″ x 20″
Artist’s Comment: An aircraft accident in 2000 left me with spinal cord injuries and an entirely different way of experiencing life. Intractable pain is a brutal master that demands your attention to even the smallest of details. “Divided Soul” expresses the dilemma that every chronic and intractable pain patient is forced to deal with: the socially acceptable face we present in public and the private horror going on inside, behind the smile. The scarred trunk is a nod to a personal horror I share with thousands of others — Adhesive Arachnoiditis and Cauda Equina Syndrome. ©2004 Radene Marie-Cook – Aniwaya Artistry (http://www.aniwaya-artistry.com).


Patients and practitioners interested in having their pain artwork displayed in this gallery should e-mail an inquiry to:
[email protected].