Anxiety can be a strange companion. The fight-or-flight response to a perceived stressor, either real or imagined, is basically a flood of chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline, into the system. The pulse and breathing rate quicken. Many who suffer from the affliction will find themselves unable to sit, sleep or relax. Pacing is a common activity when it hits.
For Niagara-on-the-Lake artist Filomena Pisano, anxiety has brought about a burst of creative activity, leading her on a path she never imagined was possible.
The former aesthetician, who owned her own business in the Toronto area, always loved art, and always wanted to create her own. Through her earlier years, she faced repeated criticism and rejection from teachers and others who didn’t understand her style. Lacking self-confidence in her abilities, she put aside those aspirations for many years.
In summer 2016, a freak accident on the beach in the Collingwood area became her turning point. She was struck in the head by a runaway kayak, suffering a concussion. During her recovery she bought a sketchbook to pass the time.
An anxiety attack hit Pisano at 3 a.m. that September. To stop herself from pacing, she picked up that sketchbook and began drawing an image of a friend. Five hours later, her mother found her still sketching. Filomena posted the sketch on her Facebook page, and the response from her friends was encouraging.
Around that same time Pisano stumbled upon a much-circulated social media post by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt. Known as 102 Days of Grief, it was a reflection on his life in the aftermath of the tragic death of his wife. Pisano became inspired to create 102 sketches and set upon that journey. She quickly realized that creating art had become her way of coping with anxiety.
Sketching led to paintingwhich led to multi-media work, and she began to immerse herself in her art. She and her husband Joe outfitted the basement at their Mississauga home with a basic studio to nurture her creativity.
In the meantime, her sister had moved to NOTL, where Filomena and Joe had considered buying a summer home. Two years ago, they bought a house two doors down from her sister. It was the perfect opportunity to build the studio of her dreams. Within a few short weeks, she realized that the planned summer home was to become their permanent residence.
Pisano’s anxiety has set in once again with the pandemic. She finds herself spending as much as 14 hours a day in that studio, often in the middle of the night, continuing to use creativity to ease the symptoms.
A visit to her John Street West studio reveals a number of works in progress. Many shed light on her influences – Willem de Kooning, Picasso, Frida Kahlo – she has actually created at least four different paintings of Kahlo herself.
“I can relate to (Kahlo’s) confinement to her bed,” she says. “Let’s face it, mental health challenges such as anxiety have confined my life. Have I lived my life to its fullest? My family (one son, three daughters, two grandchildren) have, but I hold back. I relate to her suffering.”
She has also taken the time to learn as much as she can about art. She studied with local artist Ronald Boaks, and some of her abstract work shows his influence. Boaks says, “Filomena has real character. I showed her a few things and it was Wow! Very intuitive and talented. A friend for life.”
When asked about mentors, Pisano names George Brown College professor Vince Mancuso, with whom she has also studied. Mancuso describes Filomena’s style as “natural, intuitive, highly energetic and passionate.” He adds that “after a lifetime of discouragement and intimidation, her passion repressed for so long, the person she always was has busted out.”
He says it wasn’t surprising, coming to art later in life, that she struggled with some of the spatial, structural and technical ideas inherent in the art world. At the same time, many of her images, especially the sensually-aware goddesses she has painted, show an inherent understanding of symbolism and archetypes common in the art world.
Like Pisano herself, much of her work is colourful, bold and daring. She’s not afraid to combine colours and to create works where lines don’t converge in conventional ways. Her career as an aesthetician also informs much of her art, especially in her striking images of faces, with a definite emphasis on eyes.
She collects everything, even saving the hardened paint film from her palettes for use in future creations. Pisano tells the story of a reception at the Victoria Street pizzeria Pieza, the first place to publicly show her art. During the festivities, someone dropped a stack of painted plates that shattered all over the floor. Owners Laryssa and Maurizio Cesta, who continue to be huge supporters, cleaned up the mess, and set aside the pieces in a box. Many months later, they told Pisano they never threw away the detritus. Pisano lugged the pieces home, and many of them now adorn one of her favourite works, il tempo a venezia.
A bout with carpal tunnel syndrome in her right wrist is Pisano’s latest challenge. Her fingers went numb about two weeks ago, leading her to consult with an osteopath in Niagara Falls as well as a Toronto sports medicine doctor. She and Joe bought a laser machine so she can do therapy on the wrist at home. She has already begun to practise painting with her left hand, which surely will open up a new world of possibilities in her work.
Lately she has begun working on large canvases. One of these pieces, Primavera (in the time of Corona), currently sits in her kitchen, awaiting to be shipped to its new owners. In a short time, she has sold many of her works, beginning with about 30 pieces during that original 2016 showing at Pieza.
Since then, Pisano’s work has been shown at the University of Guelph-Humber, Artusiasm Gallery in Toronto, and locally at the Niagara Image Gallery on Niagara Stone Road.
Pisano’s art continues to be on display at Pieza Pizzeria, as well as at Mikreations in Virgil. She offers private consultations at her home in the Old Town. Visit her website, https://www.filomenapisano.com to find out more.