Do you have cancer or are you a survivor? If so, please consider this offer. My name is Gerry Biron, I’m an artist from southern Vermont and I have been doing portraits of people for 50 years. During that period, I exhibited my work in over 400 shows nationwide where I won numerous first-place and best-of-show awards, and have had my portraits of American Indians featured in seven museum exhibits. In 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer and went through seven months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As you can imagine, that changed my life in a very dramatic way. It also changed my art and that development was what sustained me throughout that period.The drawings I produced while I was dealing with cancer became the basis for a style of portraiture that strives to personify the subject’s spirit. It’s a departure from my previous, representational work and in a strange way, it was a gift from my cancer. I decided that I would like to share this gift with other cancer patients. So this is an appeal to anyone who is either going through cancer treatments or has been through it. I’m asking if you would honor me by allowing me to do your portrait that when it’s completed, I will honor you in turn by giving it to you. For me, this is about creating a meaningful portrait that tells your story and helps you in a small way in your struggle with this disease. There is absolutely no charge for this.Honoring ceremonies have long played a vital role in American Indian culture. American Indians honor people for many reasons ranging from marriage, graduation and other notable life accomplishments. It’s also done to provide courage and determination to individuals who are on a journey conquering life’s difficulties. People who are suffering with cancer need to be honored and commended for their strength and resolve to overcome adversity. It’s important for each of us to encourage those who are suffering from this illness; to look out for each other is vital to our society and its existence.Art is often born of human experience, both positive and negative. As an artist of American Indian descent and a cancer patient myself, this is a way for me to honor those who are going through a similar ordeal. I lost both my parents to cancer as well as several good friends so this disease has touched me in more ways than one. Every day, 5000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed; it’s become a fact of life for many of us.My wife and I live a healthy lifestyle. I studied martial arts for 30 years and we were both runners for over 20 years. I've hiked the Long Trail in Vermont as well as sections of the Appalachian trail, I still do yoga and hike every day, and my wife and I eat a wholesome, organic diet, much of which we grow ourselves, yet we both got cancer, and within a year of each other. It's a mystery how or why this can happen but in a strange way, my cancer forced me to change direction in my art, to develop a new style, and it especially taught me to be more compassionate. The Buddha once said that a spiritual person is one who learns to recognize, then works to alleviate the suffering of others. It's a practical form of spirituality that many of us can relate to.If you’re interested in having your portrait done and you live within an hour drive of Southern Vermont, message me and I will be in touch. I can come by your home or we can meet in a mutually convenient place to discuss your portrait. If you live further away than that, I would still be honored to do your portrait but you would have to travel here. I would need less than an hour of your time to do this. I would take some photographs of you and work from them to create your portrait.Each portrait is done in full color and the final size is 22 x 30 inches. It’s a mixed-media, comprised of graphite and colored pencils and ink.Illustrated below are the finished portraits. Give this some thought and I hope to hear from some of you. If you know of someone who is dealing with cancer and might have an interest in this, please share it with them and if you can help support this project in any way, please visit my GoFundMe page.
Before I began Bill LaCour’s portrait I asked if he had a favorite color. He told me he often wears red and that his sign was fire. So that was my starting point. In the lower section of his torso is a single, enlarged colo-rectal cancer cell, the cancer he was diagnosed with in the beginning of Nov 2015; it had progressed to stage 2-3. “In December, I started my journey of what would be months of chemo and radiation treatments,” says Bill. “I realized I needed to find the best use of my treatment time so I created a mantra; ‘kill the cancer, spare Bill; I will have no adverse reaction to the chemo and radiation.’ I repeated this over and over again.”
This set the stage for how Bill would deal with his cancer and its later recurrence.
“On June 5, 2016, tumors were discovered on my liver, so surgery was scheduled and they were removed with clear margins. When I started getting depressed, I knew it was time to see a therapist, and get my head back on straight,” said Bill.
After a few more months had elapsed, two new tumors were found on his liver, plus 15-20 spots on his lungs. Bill says “I have come to terms with my mortality, which is very freeing. Reflecting on my life, which has been wonderful, I feel very lucky. There are no regrets other than the possibility of leaving my bride someday, whom I love dearly and has to endure cancer from the sidelines as my caregiver and one who never has time off.”
“By luck or chance, and by running into the right people, I got a referral to Mount Sinai Medical Center where I met with Doctor Bruckner who is world renowned in his field. He has unique treatments and they are giving me hope.”
Bill said that he “hates the cancer but the journey is amazing and so rewarding. It’s the process that gets me through this, the compassion of family and friends, the love that oozes out of everything. The resurfacing of friends with whom I'd lost contact. This feeds me, strengthens me, gives me optimism, gives me life with cancer.”
Bill is a remarkable individual whose strength and resolve to overcome his adversity make him a shining star. It was a gift to get to know him.
This is a portrait of my good friend Windsong Blake who, for more than thirty years, was the chief of the Assonet band of Wampanoag, in southeastern Massachusetts. He is also dealing with prostate cancer. When friends from the Sundance community in Potato Creek, South Dakota learned his PSA number had risen to an alarming level, they came down to visit him and carried out a healing ceremony. Their Lakota medicine people performed a sweat lodge ceremony for him and several others who were also dealing with cancer. They blessed everyone with their sacred feathers and songs and since that event, his PSA number has come down to an acceptable level. So every morning Windsong burns some sage and gives himself a blessing and thanks the spirits for his renewed health. As a Sundancer himself, having gone through the ceremony four years in a row, Windsong is also a modern day warrior and a master in the Okinawan martial arts style of Uechi-ryu karate, holding the rank of Hachidan (eight-degree black belt). Uechi-ryu is notably based on the movements of three animals: the tiger, the crane and the dragon. The dragon, represented in the background of his portrait, is symbolic of the practitioner breath from which his power is derived.