reprinted from the Annals of Vascular Surgery, January 2008.

On the Cover: Richard Kozlow.
Self portrait. Oil on canvas 2002.


This portrait was made 2 years after the painter suffered a left hemispheric stroke following an aortic valve repair. He was left with dysphasia but recovered from the right hemiparesis. Once he overcame the depression that follows a major stroke he resumed painting. For a while he had to use his non-dominant left hand, but eventually was able to paint with his right hand. In his long career Kozlow had done strong and elegant tempera drawings, intriguing landscapes that transition from representational to near abstract and symbolic bright-colored paintings (background of his attached photograph). As it happened with other artists who suffered strokes, his style changed. In Kozlow's case, his paintings acquired a clear expressionistic style.

A painting elicits an emotional response relative to its beauty as well as an intellectual response, when we read the composition and try to construct the meaning of what is represented. The colors and tracings prompt in us different and sometimes contradictory interpretations of the image. The esthetic or beauty response impresses the viewer and adds direct value to the painting. This is the case of Kozlow's landscapes and of his symbolic paintings. But in this self portrait, the ambiguous tracings, unnatural colors, absence of perspective and the fractured framing of the image invite us to unravel the message or mood that the painter is consciously or unconsciously conveying. In the deviated gaze I see remoteness, that inwardness that accompanies depression.

The concept that the death of a part of the brain may unmask views, feelings and even skills that are normally suppressed is not new to the world of art. The poet Apollinaire stopped writing poetry and took up watercolors after a stroke. In a recent case, Jon Garkin, a chiropractor who had a major cerebellar stroke, developed a new and manic compulsion to paint and write odd poetry (This story is apparently being made into a movie by the actor Tom Cruise).

There have been a few attempts to correlate the changes in the work of an artist with the location or nature of the lesion in his brain. It is not surprising that little has been explained. The creation of art involves circuitry of such higher order that cannot be understood following the simple schemes that govern the motion of a thumb or the blinking of an eyelid.

R. Berguer

Kozlow Self Portrait 2002