No one wants to go to the hospital; on the long list of places to avoid, it falls somewhere between the IRS office and the DMV. But that dread is also a function of our aversion to the all-too-often-institutionalized banality and ugliness of their architecture and décor. Picture a hospital, and what you see is bland tile, hideous pastel and corporate blah. And all too often, the art hanging in hospital lobbies and waiting areas is nauseating, fourth-rate abstract paintings that even the doctors find dispiriting.
Now imagine a hospital lobby filled with paintings of people engaged in spiritual joy: a woman communing with hummingbirds against a backdrop of golden light; a man and an ape sitting and pondering each other in a warm, red landscape; a young woman spreading her arms wide as penguins march toward her. “Janet,” “Erik,” “Justin,” “Bill,” “Elaine” and “Terrien”—each figure is attended by almost invisible angelic wings. The paintings embody a feeling of light, joy and connection with both the physical world and the world of spirit, the world of the body and of the mind. Each is the work of artist Montana Black, and can be found in a permanent installation in the entrance of the University Medical Center on Charleston Boulevard.
Black has long been interested in the power of positive images in art to act as a healing environment. “I’ve always striven to create art for the express purpose of helping to remind individuals of their innate desire for harmony, healing and wholeness, especially for spaces designed for healing and recovery,” Black says.
The artist, who received her bachelor’s of fine arts from UNLV, has shown her work in diverse galleries and settings around Nevada; for the last decade, she has been focused on work that speaks to art as a therapeutic tool. Art therapy—the practice of art itself for health benefits—is a respected technique for ill individuals, but Black feels just as strongly that the art people see in their daily lives can have as much of a therapeutic benefit. “I’ve always felt that images of beings engaged in acts that express kindness and love for other living beings can have a very powerful effect on the healing process,” Black says.
The group of paintings now on view at UMC, Angels Unveiled, found their way into the hospital’s newly constructed area thanks to the efforts of Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, who in her capacity as a fundraiser for the UMC Foundation brought Black’s work to the attention of hospital officials. The works installed are limited-edition giclée prints of the Angels series, mounted between glass; arrayed on the walls across from reception, they bring an aura of hope to a transaction—the entering of a hospital—that is often fraught with anxiety, pain and uncertainty.
But the real beauty of Black’s work is that each painting is a vibrant, fully realized expression of joy. It would be all too easy for hospitals to reach for kitsch when it comes to “positive images” (the ubiquitous poster of the HANG IN THERE! kitten-up-a-tree springs woefully to mind). Black trades in images of animals, but her evocations go beyond the merely warm and fuzzy.
“The works are my continual attempt to explore what I believe to be the true nature of the human condition and all other living beings on this planet, which is divinity,” Black says. “I have each human angel communing with an animal, a bird or other wildlife—a reference to St. Francis of Assisi and his enlightened understanding of the oneness of all life.”
Black has also set her sights beyond UMC; she hopes to bring reproductions of her images to hospitals around the nation, bringing positive, therapeutic art to the despairing infirm and weary nurses alike.
“I really think it’s imperative that the patients and staff in hospitals, hospices and healing centers are surrounded by the highest level of energy possible so that deep healing can be more effectively realized,” Black says. “Hospitals can be such sad places, and they don’t have to be—and they don’t have to swing in the other direction of enforced cheerfulness. Illness can be such an alienating state, and art can be a healing bridge that reminds people of their connection to the world of health and light.”