Ted Meyer sees hope and strength in scarred, sometimes broken bodies. For the past 18 years, he has taken monoprints directly off scarred skin and, combined with a photograph of the subject and a personal letter, has turned them into something beautiful.
He lets his subjects pick the color of the monoprints. Most pick bright, even happy, colors: pink, red, green or yellow. Meyer then photographs the subjects with the same color background and with the ink still covering the scar.
"My focus is to make something pretty out of the scar and to tell their story," Meyer said.
He adds artistic touches to each print to help the narrative. Traces of tire tracks run through a green print of a scar on a motorcycle accident victim whose crushed spine left him paralyzed.
A woman with an amputated leg holds her yellow print that includes drawings of calendars to indicate the months it took to get her insurance to approve the procedure.
All of Meyer's subjects are volunteers. He said he gets emails daily from people around the world asking to have their scars printed. To date, he's completed nearly 100 prints with the accompanying photos and stories, written by the subjects, for the "Scarred for Life" project. Thirty-five of them are on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art as part of the museum's "Healing Journeys" exhibits.
"There's obviously a real healing component to this - a finishing of the healing process. It gives people an end," he said.
It took San Diego glass artist Kathleen Mitchell some time before she was ready to have a print made. She was scalped from the base of her neck to her forehead when her hair got loose and was caught in a lathe while she was working in her studio two years ago.
"I'm really glad I did it. It was a pretty cathartic experience," Mitchell said of the printing process. "You're very vulnerable going through the process, but oddly empowered."
"Ted Meyer: Scarred for Life"
When: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Through Sept. 17
Where: Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside.
Tickets: $8; 65 and older $5; under 18, students, military and their families free.
The project started when Meyer met a dancer who was paralyzed by an accident. And while she could no longer dance, she continued in her field as a choreographer. With advances in medicine, Meyer's life had also recently changed, and the two began a conversation.
Diagnosed with Gaucher disease, an enzyme deficiency, Meyer spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals where he would draw to pass the time. He didn't expect to live a long life and focused his creativity on expressing how "frustrating it was to be stuck in this body."
First hip replacements and then newly available medications allowed Meyer to start living a normal life - but robbed him of his artistic focus.
"For a while, I did a lot of pretty artwork that was not emotionally satisfying," he said.
That meeting with the former dancer led Meyer to think about how he could bring his art back into the medical world. He decided he would start focusing on other people. She became the first subject of the "Scarred for Life" project.
The Oceanside exhibit has stories of both civilians and veterans; young people, older people; medical scars, accidents, war wounds and even self-inflicted wounds. All have been life-altering.
"It's different when you talk to vets," Meyer said. "Civilians' stories are usually a very personal thing. When you talk to vets, it's about the person next to them who didn't survive."
Whatever the story, Meyer said, they are "all compelling, about people who have survived amazing things. Most are stronger because of it."