Portrait of Transformation

Living Well Magazine Winter 2014

Pilar Del Torre is an artist who in 2013 was diagnosed with breast cancer. Previously selected in 2005 for the Salon de Refuse, a concurrent exhibition to the Archibald Portrait Award that just 30 out of 1000 entries are selected for, Pilar found a new reason to portray herself.

Speaking about her new entry into the Archibald Portrait Award in 2014, she says:

“Painting this portrait was a challenge!! Emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually…

After all my surgery, I ended up with a frozen shoulder and had lots of time to design the painting in my head whilst I did therapy to release my shoulder (acupuncture, osteo, physio and qi gong…)

So when I had a partially functional arm I started to bring my idea out of my head and into reality. That was physically challenging but I believe that it helped my shoulder as well to be moving.

The number of times that I faced myself, literally face-to-face, as I worked on the painting and broke down in tears was healing. So many mixed emotions: disbelief about what had happened to me, what I had gone through and what the future may hold.

I knew if there was ever a time in my life as an artist that I had something to say, it was now! That’s why I pushed myself to paint this despite the doubts, pain and fear that the process brought out of me.

The reality of having gone through breast cancer and chemotherapy for me was mainly visible by the loss of my hair. That’s why the focus of the painting is about that main visible marker. For me the loss of my hair was so significant! It made me feel so vulnerable and insecure about myself!

My hair had always given me a sense of confidence.

So for the right-hand image I chose a photo taken at Christmas 2012 when I was totally happy-go-lucky and unaware of what I was heading towards. The middle image is at the peak of chemo. It was my dark period, mainly because it took my hair. At this stage I had lost my breast but I could hide that, disguise it, but not my head or no eyelashes or a few remaining eyebrows. So I used a dark background for the winter of my life. The left image represents the future, rebirth, regrowth and hope.

I used the breast cancer ribbon on the left as part of the number 8 and placed the 1 inside it. I want to use the painting as an awareness-raising image to promote the staggering statistic (of 1:8 women) that meant little to me prior to my diagnosis.

Transformation is what this experience did for me – I’ve changed every aspect of my life due to this journey. And in some strange way, I feel it’s given me the wake up call I needed, with a second chance!

So now I no longer have a crazy stressed-out life, instead I am dedicating myself to my art, my music (flamenco guitar), recovering my health and vitality and my beautiful and supportive family.”

Pilar attended the Breast Cancer Retreat in August 2013.