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Artist Turns Physical Trauma into Spiritual Beauty with ‘X-ray Visions’

A piece from ‘There Is Healing in a Story.’ (Artwork by Jennifer McCormick)

As a certified medical illustrator, Jennifer McCormick has encountered countless diagnostic images of patients’ injuries — many of them critical and unexpected. Through her Winston-Salem-based practice Art for Law & Medicine, McCormick has for nearly two decades taken those images and provided attorneys and their clients with medical illustrations to submit as demonstrative evidence in a courtroom.

While the CT and PET scans, MRIs and X-rays McCormick produces are most often used as factual evidence, there’s also a subjective artistic beauty to them. At least that’s the idea behind X-ray Visions, a body of work she began in 2009. Through the project, McCormick transforms the anonymized diagnostic images into pieces that inspire hope, healing, acceptance and recovery. She will showcase the project in a new exhibit, There is Healing in a Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Art, which will run at Mint Hill Arts Fine Arts Center from Jan. 23-Feb. 22.

“The cases that I see are people who have been gravely injured in accidents, and it’s always a sudden thing, or sometimes it’s a medical malpractice case. I could always understand the medicine and the treatment, but I could never offer anything clinically,” McCormick says. “The only thing I could do is sort of look into their case and kind of think positively for them or say a prayer. And then after 20-some years of medical illustration … I just kind of opened my mind to the possibility [of making art with the images]. I let myself experiment on the page. I let myself make a visual prayer.”

McCormick’s X-ray Visions are a form of spiritual art, or “a place of meditation,” as she describes them.

(Artwork by Jennifer McCormick)

“When I have enough quiet in the studio and enough understanding and connection with the subject, then the piece of art produces itself,” she says. “I have a vision of what I want the end result to look like, but that process between the image in my mind and laying it down on the page, that sort of unravels by itself; it sort of unfolds by itself.”

Central to the practice of spiritual art is to create work that uplifts other people, McCormick adds.

“When I see self-indulgent stuff, really egotistical, like all about my fear, my pain … all of that autobiographical, self-absorbed stuff, I don’t think that does anything to help people,” she says. “So every one of the stories that I tell that came from somebody’s actions — somebody’s serious, life-changing accident — they’re all meant to uplift. And I do it without words … There’s a brighter side if you want to see it. There’s nothing dark and creepy about the work.”

The specific story, in this case, is that of the late Marianne Oberg, a visual artist and spiritualism practitioner whose clay sculptures had previously been showcased at Mint Hill Arts. In 2012, Oberg died from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident. Following Oberg’s death, her husband Bob established the Marianne Oberg Foundation for Spiritual Art. McCormick is the first recipient of the foundation’s spiritual art grant.

(Artwork by Jennifer McCormick)

Rather than turn to anonymous diagnostic images in her upcoming exhibit, McCormick is using Marianne’s. Bob supported the creative choice to use Marianne’s images, and this exhibit marks the first time McCormick has worked to transform an X-ray into artwork with a family’s knowledge.

“Working with Bob, getting to know him, talking with him about his wife, having him share his story and poetry with me, I got a feel for somebody else’s journey toward spirituality — toward wanting to know what’s out there after death, toward wanting to know what’s sublime of this life that’s full of pain,” McCormick says.

McCormick decided to use Marianne’s X-rays shortly after receiving the grant, she says.

“It just kind of seemed like the natural starting point. So when I started out on this journey, I got her X-rays, and I listened to what they were doing spiritually,” McCormick says. “I took her X-rays I found interesting, and I let that lead pieces. So I have images in the show that show her eyes, her heart and her head. And those are pretty much the starting point for all the pieces.”


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