Blog / 2010 / Between Life and Death

September 27, 2010

A few years ago I had the privilege of painting two portraits of one man, the first before his heart transplant and the second after. When I met with the subject to photograph him the first time, he didn’t know whether or not he would get a transplant in time, so he had worked hard to prepare for the end of his life. He was cheerful and so completely at peace that he seemed otherworldly.

acrylic painted portraits of the same man, before and after a heart transplant
Gwenn Seemel
Before and After: Heart Transplant
2007 and 2008
acrylic on canvas
30 x 48 inches (combined dimensions)

When I interviewed him a year later, he was a changed man. He had been frail and now he was healthy, but there was more to the transformation than that.

In the interim he had lost the uncanny calm that I had seen before the operation. He was back among the living, immersed in the mild chaos that is life. He was happy but tired, vital and turbulent.

He was alive, and being alive is complicated.

I have endometriosis. It’s a disease that causes chronic pain, has no cure, and is widely misunderstood. Whenever I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by it, I think of these two paintings and the man they portray.


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