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Painful affliction leads to pictorial memoir

By Patricia Robert
Four of Lea Carmichael’s drawings from “The Migraine Book”

The 40 drawings on display at the Irvington Public Library may be cartoonish in nature, something like a child might draw; or horrific, depicting a decapitation perhaps; or graphic, showing a screw in the eye. But they all have one thing in common.

“They are about how I was feeling at the time, and that was when I was suffering from a migraine,” artist Lea Carmichael of Irvington said in a recent interview.

Poster-sized blow-ups from drawings included in Carmichael’s “The Migraine Book: A Memoir in Pictures” will be on view in the library’s Martucci Gallery through Jan. 30, with an opening reception tomorrow (Jan. 7), from 1 to 4 p.m.

Carmichael, 62, who has a studio in Dobbs Ferry, has suffered from migraines for most of her adult life, but not from the nausea or incapacitation that debilitates others. Still, she experiences excruciating pain across her forehead and behind her right eye. That right eye is a constant in her art — an eye usually distorted by lines and colors indicating pain.

“Some 15 years ago, I found that if I were able to draw, something, anything, I could combat the pain,” she said. “It didn’t go away, but it allowed me to do something active that let me both combat and express my feelings of anger and frustration. So I would pick up whatever was on my bedside table — a pastel, a pencil, a watercolor pencil, a felt-tip marker, even a roller-ball pen, and draw.”

“None of these were drawn with intent,” she continued. “They were spontaneous, intuitive. The drawings don’t have names. I don’t like the narrative to define the visual; I let the visual define itself. But I do include writing in some of the drawings in this collection and I call it the adventures of Mrs. Yamhead.

“Mrs. Yamhead, like myself, had to go to a party while suffering with a migraine,” she explained. “I have Mrs. Yamhead saying to this person who is trying to engage her/me in conversation, ‘Don’t you see that my eye is as big as a plate?’”

“The Migraine Book” contains 11 chapters, each depicting a different aspect of the affliction, and includes such descriptive titles as “Big Eye and Full Frontal,” “Raw, Disfigured, and Overflowing with Pain,” “Masks” and “At Its Mercy.” The book’s introduction describes Carmichael’s history of migraines, how the book came to be, and reactions to the drawings from fellow migraine sufferers.

As evidenced by the adventures of Mrs. Yamhead, there is also a touch of humor.

Carmichael is pleased with the blow-up prints of her drawings for the exhibition. “This has given my drawings a whole new life — a wow factor — that is very exciting,” she said.

Carmichael has worked in a number of art forms — painting, photography, graphic design, and illustration. Earlier work includes a series entitled “Patterns of Nature,” a collection of hand-colored photographs of abstractions from nature, and “New Work-Still Lifes,” which is done in pastels. She has also painted stage sets, contributed graphic designs on a pro bono basis, taught an after-school workshop at Dows Lane Elementary School, and tutored at St. Andres Church in Yonkers. Carmichael attended the Kansas City Art Institute for two years and received a BA with a major in fine arts from Hampshire College.

Carmichael and her husband, Lee Richardson, have lived in Irvington for 28 years. Their eldest son, Colin, who lives in Hawthorne, edited “The Migraine Book,” and their second son, Thomas, who lives at home, scanned the drawings for the exhibition. Their daughter, Annie, lives in California. All three children attended Irvington Middle School, with Thomas and Annie graduating from Irvington High School.

The Irvington Public Library, 12 S. Astor St., is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


January 6, 2017

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