An escape through art: Nyssa Perrin Clark manages pain through painting

When it comes to art, Nyssa Perrin Clark said the ability to start is one of the most important parts of the creative process.

“If you can just start and not have an investment in the outcome, and just let it go where it’s going to go,” she said.

Clark struggled with perfectionism growing up, which hindered her earlier in life when she pursued art. It wasn’t until 2016 when she was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia that she picked up the brush once more and started to paint “without judgement.” A decision that led her to showcase her work in an exhibit called “Soul Dig: Excavating Essence” at Springfield City Hall for April.

s_topTEMP900x420-2749“The hallmark (of occipital neuralgia) is pain 24/7; there’s no break from it,” she explained. “It’s all-encompassing and hard to keep it from taking over your life. The pain created a sense of isolation because I was at home a lot and unable to work. One day, I decided to let go of any ideas of (perfection.)”

Occipital neuralgia is a headache characterized by chronic piercing, throbbing or electric-shock-like pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Clark had two separate, random head injuries that led to the condition.

Clark realized that while she was painting, she could block out her pain for a period of time and she has since started to see some improvements, health-wise. She said that she has created a life that works within the parameters of the disability.

“It left room for happiness and pleasure, it gave me a sense of something of my own, something I could have control of. When your body betrays you there’s a great sense of loss of control,” she said. “Art ended up being instrumental.”

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Clark describes her work as “an active stream of consciousness.”

Using acrylic paints, she said that she typically lets the emotions and feelings of the day, along with color that comes to her, play itself out on the canvas. She doesn’t limit herself to a specific color scheme, style or time limit because it brings out a more “organic, authentic voice.”

Often, she paints “a la prima” or when all the paint is wet at the same time. One stroke or tool will lead her into the next move. By the end she’ll be so engaged in the process that sometimes she’s not sure how the painting happened.

“It’s a very physical experience,” she said. “I’m engrossed in what I’m doing and when I get to the end I’ll be absolutely exhausted. It’ll be like I’ve run a marathon.”

Clark had always been artistic. Her mother was a landscape architect, and she grew up with a respect for nature. In high school, she did collage – occasionally she’ll still put collage elements in her pieces, but because the process is tedious for her eyes she sticks with painting because it’s “blurrier” and requires less focus. Professionally, she worked in print advertising for Willamette Week and the Daily Astorian, where she said she learned the value of white space.

“A lot of things came together,” she said.

The biggest challenge for her is space. Clark paints in her 8-foot-by-8-foot dining room and said that even when she covers everything up she still has gotten paint on the drapes. She likes to work from home, though, and eventually she wants to build a studio in the back.

s_2TEMP900x420-8422Like every artist, Clark said she struggles with the end. She heard another artist say that they know a piece is done when there is nothing left to do, which she thinks is a good way to put it.

“I’m in a process always of ‘when do I let it be’ and ‘when do I spend more time with it,” she explained. “I spend a lot more time now with my pieces in consideration.”

The painting process can take anywhere from four to six hours, even days; she said it depends on the piece she’s making. One of the challenging aspects is she has had people look at her work and tell her that a painting wasn’t completed.

“And it’s like, ‘well, it is done; because I’m done,'” she said. “Maybe it’s not the painting you wanted it to be, but it’s done.”

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Clark specifically planned to show at Springfield City Hall in 2019. She and her husband, Michael, moved to Springfield in 2018 after living in Creswell and she wanted to have an exhibit in her new home.

They moved in right before the proposal was due, and Clark said she pushed herself to make the proposal. Originally she proposed 10 pieces that had already been shown at earlier exhibits, but she had since sold some of those and she decided she wanted to do something new.

She created a show of 23 paintings, on canvases that were one-inch thick and around two-feet high. The exhibit, “Soul Dig: Excavating Essence,” explores going back in time to the specific markers of a person’s life, as well as finding the essence of an individual.

“We have layers of experiences and people and events that alter and shape who we are in life,” she said, “but our happiest self and our most pure and authentic self is typically – although it’s different for everyone – the person we were from age 7 to 15.

Clark uses acrylic paint to create work that she describes as “an active stream of consciousness.” She said that she lets the emotions and feelings of the day, along with color that comes to her, play itself out on the canvas.

“The work goes back and looks at those different markers in time, while also peeling (the layers) away like an archeological dig that shows what those things were as a girl that made me so happy,” she continued. “I find it’s the same fo most people, and that feeling of freedom is always available: We just have to pull back those layers.”

Beyond Springfield, Clark has exhibited and sold work at Gilt and Gossamer Boutique in Eugene, and at the Creswell Library Community Art Show. In 2018, her student work “Easter Weekend” was shown in New York City at MoMA’s School of Education and Research.

“I’m really thankful to the City of Springfield and the Springfield Arts Commission, and to my husband,” she said. “My husband does everything in his power to support and facilitate my art career and he’s my number one cheerleader and fan.”

Going forward, Clark said the Springfield exhibit has “pushed her to new boundaries” and she’s excited to see how it will translate into future shows and how her work will be influenced by it.

“I’m experiencing life and I’m putting it on the canvas in my own voice,” she said, “and it’s my way of expressing myself.”

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