Many hospitals have art galleries because having art on the walls can be a source of distraction and comfort for patients and those visiting them. But the act of creation can also be a part of the healing process. That is part of the story behind “The Concussion Diaries,” an exhibit organized by the Arts Council of Princeton currently on view at Princeton Public Library.
The artist is Princeton resident Terri Riendeau, a 1983 Princeton University alumna who has worked in the Admission Office there for the past 30 years. In college she studied Slavic languages and literatures, but she also dabbled in photography. That hobby became prohibitively expensive in the early years of post-college life, but the impulse to create art was still there and rose to the surface following a health crisis. In an artist statement Riendeau writes:
“I suffered a serious concussion in April 2017. Alice fell down a rabbit hole; I just fell on the floor. The doctors forbade ‘reading, screens of any sort, and complex thinking.’ For the first four months I couldn’t even listen to music. I wondered if I might go bonkers — and then I wondered if that was complex thinking. Without the capacity for the usual distractions, I found myself in a quiet world of color and composition. In some ways my sensory experience was stripped down, but in other ways it was heightened. On the daily walks required for my recovery, I noticed every detail of spring in New Jersey — leaves unfurling, vines encircling, the patterns in moss — with a piercing intensity.
“At the suggestion of a friend I started painting . . . At various points my artistic energy went into making photography, writing poetry and weaving, but I had always considered painting off limits. The concussion eliminated my silly, self-imposed restraints, and painting turned the disaster into discovery.
“My limited faculties when I started painting freed me from spending any time thinking about why I was painting and what I was trying to say with my work. Two of my paintings, Charlottesville and Categoría Cinco (Maria) are direct responses to current events, but the others are explorations of technique, color and form. Asking myself now about the why and the what, I am reminded of a talk I went to by the photographers Laura McPhee and Virginia Beahan. In response to a student who asked about pursuing a career in art, one of them said, ‘If you don’t need to make photographs, you won’t.’ I am still finding my way as a painter, but I can say for certain that I need to make paintings.”
The paintings in the library exhibit were first shared via the Instagram account @Laundrini, where Riendeau’s partner, Shelley Krause, helped her document not only her paintings but also her return to photography. On Riendeau’s website, www.nightwalkstudio.org, she notes that they took doctor-recommended walks at night, when the light would not bother her eyes, and occasionally stopped to shoot photos with her phone.
Riendeau appears for an artist talk at the library on Monday, February 4, at 7 p.m. She will be joined by artist Robert Dimatteo, whose exhibit “The Periodic Table of Elements” is also on view. Both exhibits continue through June 8.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 Princeton Echo.