You’ve seen her work all over the place.
Amelia Caruso paints dots. She paints them on transformer boxes as part of Fort Collins’ Art in Public Places program. You can find Amelia’s dots adorning everything from socks and mugs to shirts and journals. She’s even custom painted purses and shoes for Rosie O’Donnell and Diane Sawyer. Early work was used in the sets of television shows “Will & Grace” and “Third Rock From The Sun.” Her dots have migrated onto a fabric collection which is distributed throughout the country by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. “Thank God for the quilters,” Amelia quips.
The Cincinnati native majored in documentary photography at the Arts Academy of Cincinnati and followed that with a teaching degree from the University of Cincinnati. The photographic composition skills she learned in college influence her work today. Each dot is hand painted; the only tool Amelia uses is a paintbrush.
For Amelia, painting the dots is meditative and perhaps a little compulsive. “The circular form is the smallest absolute there is,” she explains. “It can be anything from satellite photos to the smallest, little, infinitesimal thing; like bacteria, atoms.” Some viewers approach her paintings and see flowers; others will see topography. Still others see images on a cellular level.
And that’s where things get interesting.
In July 2007, Amelia was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The prior December she shifted from painting realistic architectural images to just dots. “At first, they were little intrusions of dots,” she says of her work’s transition. “Then it moved into full coverage; the painting was nothing but dots.” Pay attention to this part—it’s going to get a little freaky soon.
About a year after her chemotherapy finished, Amelia was sitting at the computer and had an epiphany of sorts. She wondered what her cancer looked like. So, like anyone else with a question, she went to the Google for an answer. What she saw knocked her off her stool.
“I sat there slack-jawed,” remembers Amelia. “The patterns that I’m seeing are exactly what I’ve been painting for the past couple of years.”
A request to the Pathology Department at Poudre Valley Hospital resulted in receiving slides containing her very own cancer cells. Amelia had them photographed and upon examining the digital images discovered that not only were the dot patterns very similar to her paintings, they matched up compositionally to paintings that she had completed just as she was being diagnosed with cancer.
“It wasn’t even that it was crazy that the dot patterns matched; it was crazy that the slices that came from the actual tumors matched up. And all that was cut from something small and made even smaller,” says Amelia. “So when you blew them up, they matched up compositionally to paintings I had already done.”
That was the crazy part for Amelia. “A lot of people talk about the whole mind-body experience—and I mean no disrespect when I say this to those people—but that seems all seems so foo-foo for me,” she says. “I didn’t get it. And I still don’t know if I get it. But I can’t deny the fact that there was something seriously weird going on.”