Painter Rick Bartow says he considers himself very lucky. Overtaken by a stroke in August, he was able to summon help quickly.
As he was rushed to a hospital, Bartow says he was startled to observe his conscious mind unwinding as the stroke took effect. He couldn’t speak very well, and the stroke “definitely erased 50 years of lyrics. But in a day and a half, I nicked somebody’s pen and started drawing on napkins, and I knew I could still draw.”
Bartow’s practice continued through his recovery, beginning with sketches made while he was still in the hospital. His exhibition, on view at Portland’s Froelick Gallery, is entitled, Bird Wings. They range from acrylic and gouache paintings to large pastel drawings he’s completed since the stroke.
“There are ghosts in the work,” Bartow says. “I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something there that’s changed.”
The works reflect a focus on speech and language, entwined through both human and animal forms.
Bartow is a Vietnam veteran and member of the Wiyot tribe, of Northern California. He’s played with a band for several years, and says it’s taken him longer to recapture his singing voice in the wake of the stroke.
“The first time time I tried to sing,” he says, “it sounded like the Muppets, the Swedish Guy. My entire face sounded like it belonged to somebody else. I just stopped and started laughing and told them, ‘If this is what we got, we’re done’.”
But with some practice, he says, the music, too, has returned.