"Hospice. You know you hear words; you have an idea of what they are. And then when it is happening you don’t have a clue what hospice is. It’s just a word. And now all of a sudden this word has meaning and you look around and you think, a sick person must live here. And then it dawns on you that you’re that sick person.
Sometimes I wonder what I have to look forward to. And the more I think on that, the more it draws me to what it was. As a child I had nothing. And I had to make my life work, ‘cos I was kept in the attic. And not having anything I would purloin things from the school. And in time I had paintbrushes, scraps of paper. Art would take me to another world.
Oh I tried to tell people that things weren’t right at my place, but nobody listened. By the fourth foster home they didn't have a clue what to do with me. They started to give me medication and they had me on 28 pills a day and I was introduced to shock treatment. Nothing terrified me more than that. And I would hang in the back and the paint on the walls would seem to bubble up and there would be insects and snakes crawling underneath the paint. And I think where my head is now; I have come so far.
Art is like the giver of life for me. To look at something and then to draw it, it’s like becoming one with the object and it makes you feel more whole and more whole. Throughout my entire existence I enjoyed going to that place of peace. And I wonder about people who never ever know high peace and I felt lucky that I knew, little old nobody me could get high peace."
When I met Jenny through Pathways Hospice, she was living in an SRO building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Surrounded by a lifetime’s work of stunningly intricate paintings and sculptures, Jenny would monologue for an hour, stopping only to light another cigarette and slurp on her grape soda. Jenny was an artist in the purest form: she was compelled to create and she did so in order to heal herself. Jenny explained that all the way through her life – through physical and sexual abuse, hospitalization, mental illness and homelessness – art had been the thing that saved her. In September 2015, Jenny’s portrait was selected be exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. When Jenny and I went out for lunch to celebrate, she told me that participating in this project had validated her life.