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By  Summer Jarro | Correspondent   ©The Gainesville Sun,    July 19, 2018

At the Harn Museum:  Hallucinations Influence Artist’s Creativity


Since a 2012 stroke, artist J. Fredric May has had hallucinations that he now uses in his work.

J. Fredric May took a bad situation and turned it around to create a new artistic vision.

In 2012, May, a former photojournalist and filmmaker from Kinston, North Carolina, went to the hospital with three broken ribs after he fell from his roof trying to rescue his cat, Samy. At the hospital, doctors did a CAT scan where they found an aortic aneurysm.

May, 58, underwent surgery to fix the aneurysm and suffered a stroke during the procedure. The stroke caused him to lose 46 percent of his vision, making him legally blind, and have hallucinations due to Charles Bonnet Syndrome, May said.

Since his stroke, May, who now lives in Palm Springs, California, has been creating art to cope with his changed lifestyle and hallucinations.

“I just followed it and just with no expectation of what I would get out of it, and they kind of just took a life of their own,” May said.

He now has a body of work titled “Apparitions: Postcards from Eye See You” that represent his hallucinations.

The exhibit opened June 26 at the Harn Museum and will be displayed through Sept. 16.


May’s first hallucination came while in postoperative care. He had a vision of a Christmas tree with orange and pink bows in the hospital bathroom. After, he would get visions of different faces that are displayed in his artwork.

“The ones I get now just happen in my extreme periphery, and they’re usually of groups of people that are milling about and they kind of follow me around,” May said.

To help with his recovery, May began using Glitch software on his iPad to create and corrupt images. He would scan any photographs to the software and layer the images up, creating something new.

He ended up with vague, distorted faces he would put into Photoshop to edit and then turn into cyanotypes. After, he’d bleach and tone the cyanotypes with different teas. He scans the final print to make the pieces larger, as those shown in the Harn.

It wasn’t until 2015, after May’s second stroke, he realized he was subconsciously creating art based on his hallucinations.

The dark areas of his images are May’s hallucinations, which constantly change form in each piece, he said.

May displayed his artwork for the first time in 2017 at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts. Since then his work has been displayed at other museums, and he’s spoken at panels to discuss his medical experience and artistic style.

“It’s been a very kind of an emotional journey,” May said.

Along with the exhibition, on Friday and Saturday there will be two panels with May at the Harn Museum presented in collaboration with the UF Center for Arts in Medicine, UF Health, the UF Center of Movement Disorder and Neurorestoration, and UF Creative B.

The first panel discussion on Friday will include May and UF neurologists Dr. Kenneth Heilman, Dr. Adam Kelly and Dr. Brian Hoh, said Eric Segal, director of education and curator of academic programs at the Harn, who has helped plan the exhibit and panels. The museum is at 3259 Hull Road.

Saturday, the second panel will discuss May’s work and the relationship between art, medicine and health, said Jill Sonke, director of the Center for Arts in Medicine and coordinator for the panel.

The panel begins at 3 p.m. with May, Sonke, and three neurologists in the Chandler Auditorium and is open to the public.

“There’s so many different ways in which the arts relate to health and particular conditions that many people in our community are living with, so we really love to bring forward to the community opportunities to explore and more deeply understand the connections between arts and health,” Sonke said.

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