FINDING ENERGY IN ART
Painter’s exhibition is triumph over chronic illness
VIRGINIA BEACH | Durwood Zedd has learned to live with the fire.
The pain that can flame around his face and through his teeth was a dull throb as he searched stacks of abstract paintings and nature photographs to include in his art exhibition.
The constant buzzing in his ears has become tolerable; at least his symptoms don’t debilitate him as they once did.
Mr. Zedd, 70, has had several careers, one as a professional auctioneer, his family name well known in local business circles for decades. He owned a gym, worked as a trainer, ran clothing and retail stores, and became a successful photographer in San Francisco.
His latest turn might be his most important. Eight years ago, he developed a neurological disorder that threatened to rob him of his ability to work and to live.
But he channeled his energies into painting, and will open “Durwood Zedd: Retrospective of Photography and Paintings” at the Towne Bank Pavilion Center I in Virginia Beach. The work will be on display through August.
“The art is what keeps me going,” he said.
Mr. Zedd grew up in Norfolk and worked in the family’s auction business, and he and his brother ran their own. He also ran the popular Eljo’s clothing store at Wards Corner before taking off for San Francisco in 1988 to try something new.
He was going on a trip to Italy, and his then-girlfriend gave him a camera. Mr. Zedd exhausted rolls of film, and his friend was struck with how well composed and distinctive the photos looked.
“They’re actually pretty good,” he remembers her saying. “They don’t look like tourist photographs.”
He was working as a trainer at the time and saw a client walking around the gym with an auction catalog. He wanted to get the man’s opinion of a photo Mr. Zedd had in his car.
“How much do you want for it?” the man asked.
Mr. Zedd didn’t know what to say, so he just tossed out a number: “$350.”
The guy ordered one. Minutes later Mr. Zedd was telling the story to a coworker when another man tapped him on the shoulder and asked about the photo. He wanted one, too. Mr. Zedd quoted the price, and the man asked Mr. Zedd to bring in all of his work.
The one print was all Mr. Zedd had. He started taking more photographs, and the man became a regular customer, buying more than 50 pieces.
Mr. Zedd then rented a space to sell his pictures of nature and architecture. He added unique fixtures, tables and accent pieces, and soon had a boutique of high-end items.
Years of growing up in auction houses gave Mr. Zedd an appreciation for the eclectic and hard-to-find pieces his customers loved. Mr. Zedd’s photographs were eventually exhibited at galleries in San Francisco, San Jose and New York.
Then one morning in October 2009, a searing sensation shook Mr. Zedd awake.
“It felt like an ax was going through my head,” he said. “It wasn’t a headache; it was just head pain.”
He was later diagnosed with trigeminal autonomic cephalgias, a disorder of the trigeminal nerve, the sensory nerve of the face. It creates headaches that Mr. Zedd says feel like something is boring into his skull, incessantly.
Mr. Zedd spent months in pain clinics and tried Botox shots, oxygen regimens, pills and hypnosis. He couldn’t focus and use his camera.
Confined to his apartment, he picked up a paintbrush and started documenting his pain in daily sketches. He’d paint a woman’s face to reflect his mood, a slight smile on good days, sometimes a blank stare, other times a grumpy look when the rent was due and he wasn’t sure how it would be paid. He always included a cigarette dangling from the lips.
He realized he was painting memories of his childhood. The “Cigarette Girls,” as he named the series, represented his mother and aunts who died from lung cancer. He now has more than 600 works in the series.
Artist Durwood Zedd is holding his first art exhibit of paintings and photography at Towne Bank Pavilion Center I in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “The art is what keeps me going,” Mr. Zedd said. Mr. Zedd discovered his talent for photography during a trip to Italy.