Illboard: A diabetic artist takes to the streets

Brian Bradley's artwork reflects his struggles with diabetes and the health-care system

Serrano and Bradley have known each other nearly three years. He'll "be the first to say, 'I don't know anything about you.' I'll say, 'Yeah, even though I've known my dad for 36 years, I still don't know anything about him,'" Bradley says. "And that's just the nature of our existence, I think. You never really know somebody. You do and you don't."

******

Brian Bradley's life is defined by his disease. He grew up in Arvada with a single mom and five siblings. Finances were tight. His father lived in west Denver, and the kids would see him regularly. He worked at Keebler and would bring them free treats he'd gotten from his job, Monica Bradley remembers, but Bradley couldn't eat them because of his disease.

Brian Bradley often feels that he's only kept alive through science and his art, which focuses on his struggles treating type 1 diabetes without insurance in today's health-care system. See a sampling of Bradley's work in our slide show.
eric magnussen
Brian Bradley often feels that he's only kept alive through science and his art, which focuses on his struggles treating type 1 diabetes without insurance in today's health-care system. See a sampling of Bradley's work in our slide show.
Bradley posts his street art under the name Frank Kwiatkowski. See a sampling of Bradley's work in our slide show.
Bradley posts his street art under the name Frank Kwiatkowski. See a sampling of Bradley's work in our slide show.

"You don't really process something like that," he says. "You're told what to do and you just do it, or people do it for you. If you need an injection, they inject you with insulin. If you need sugar, they feed you sugar. It's kind of like an animal on a farm."

His sister remembers the change more starkly. "As a little kid, before he had diabetes, we would make mud pies together. We were just two years apart, so we were pretty good little buddies," Monica says. "When he got diabetes and was angry all the time, we'd get along to some degree, but him and I would just battle it out. And by battle, I mean I'd just beat the crap out of him." The fights stopped when she was sixteen and realized her brother was getting a little too big to fight.

Bradley got into fights with his mother, too. "It was a nightly ritual where, when my mom came home from work, you pretty much knew there would be a battle between the two," Monica says.

Most of those fights were over Bradley's diabetes: whether he was eating properly, if he was taking his insulin. Like many kids and teens diagnosed with type 1, Bradley refused to follow the steps necessary to manage his disease. That ended when he was sixteen and a serious reaction landed him in the hospital.

After that, Bradley began taking care of himself. He began watching what he ate, taking insulin shots and checking his blood sugar regularly. "I was trained this way, and I can't untrain myself," he says.

Bradley attended three high schools in the metro area but spent the most time at Abraham Lincoln, on South Federal Boulevard. "I didn't like the math, the science, the all-around eduction. I thought I should have been put into a trade school, something useful," he says.

After working odd jobs and taking classes at Front Range Community College, he enrolled in the creative writing program at Naropa University in 1998, and then signed up for the visual art program too. He left a year later without graduating from either program. "Higher education, as I see it, is pretty worthless," he says, adding that he was working on a book and "didn't see the point in being a student anymore."

He made money with labor-intensive jobs, such as groundskeeping and working as a fish processor in Alaska for a summer, a stint he describes as "constant misery."

In December 2001, Bradley met the woman he'd eventually marry, Mary Papp. They were living in the same apartment complex near Sloan's Lake. She had a big physical presence and a personality to match. Bradley calls her a performance artist because of her fondness for the dramatic.

She was also addicted to heroin, but that was part of her attraction. "I like being around sick people. I like being around drug addicts. I like being around fucked-up people," Bradley says. "There are characteristics of sick people that aren't in people who think they're healthy."

About a year later, Papp moved to be with her family in Florida — but Bradley kept talking to her on the phone, and she soon returned. "She just came here and kind of claimed me," he remembers. "She just claimed me."

They moved in together in December 2002.

"We were really happy when he had his girlfriend," Monica says. "She had her health problems as well, but she had also been a nurse. She was the first person that I ever saw who could get him to eat good food on a regular basis. And we all just really saw her as a blessing since he wasn't alone."

Bradley never gave her money for her habit, he says. Instead, she'd call her mother, who'd mail her a check.

They got married on September 16, 2005, so that Papp could take advantage of the insurance Bradley had through his maintenance job at the Denver Botanic Gardens. (He lost that job in 2009 after he reportedly threatened another employee.)

They divorced in 2007 when Papp realized that his insurance wouldn't cover treatment for the symptoms she experienced when coming down. Divorced, she could qualify for the Colorado Indigent Care Program.

But on July 10, 2008, Papp died of a heroin overdose.

"I think I love her more now than I did then," Bradley says.

Much of his art features her image. One piece shows a snarling woman with two syringes jutting into her face, one just above her brow and one just below, and the words "Saint Mary's Sink" written above her face. Papp died leaning in their kitchen sink. After she died, Bradley gave away the pots and pans she'd bought. "She never used them, of course, but she had this idea in her mind that they'd be there, just in case," he says.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
21 comments
Cancer Treatment
Cancer Treatment

Well written article.You have done great job by sharing this informative post with us.I like this post.Keep sharing with us in future too.

coolzGirl
coolzGirl

I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from : BidsBit.com

londoncar
londoncar

I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.Here is the website we use to get it all from : http://BidsBit.com

Woahphoto
Woahphoto

Boo Hiss Westword! What is up with the shitty journalism and tasteless articles? I couldn't even finish reading the article because I felt like none of this was any of my business. Why do I need to know about his wife's passing and why are they calling his sister? Why are they going into such deep personal things about someone and steering away from the whole point of the article. Why are they making him out to be this poor pathetic sap when I know otherwise. He is a very kind , caring, intelligent person who struggles with something while creating beautiful art. This wasn't about his art at all and isn't that the whole point? Why did they use his real name, when he is a street artist? Westword do you have any respect for people and the things they do at all? You are becoming the tmz of denver and its disgusting. All I know is that if I ever deal with you ill be sure to give you as little information so you don't twist everything into something so negative and trashy.

Byby
Byby

how many laws has he broken?

Christy
Christy

This guy really needs to get over himself. There is more to him than just being diabetic. While it is expensive and a drag, it doesn't need to consume his entire being. I get that everybody expresses themselves differently, but I don't think we really needed to hear about it. By the way, I am a type 2 diabetic, so I'm not inconsiderate to his disease and fully realize the problems it can cause.

Bornazen
Bornazen

I have been living with Diabetes for almost 20 years and can totally relate to the problems in this article, except Bradley's treatment regimine is outdated and completely naive. I will only say that I changed from a roller coaster Insilin treatment that is no longer needed to one that involves a 24hr. dosed Insilin that if taken properly with diet and exercise can make your life change from night to day, and this Insilin has been around for over a decade... It saddens me when I hear about people who do not know how to find a better alternatives to their health and no one teaches them, including the media and Doctors. BTW I am self reliant when it comes to my medical decisions and have suggested most of my choices to my Doctors over the years that make my control tollerable, but lets be honest it is still a terrible Disease.

AWE Collective
AWE Collective

See Bradley's art in a solo show tonight at Crash 45 - located at 321 E. 45th Avenue, Denver, CO 80216. Curated by AWE Collective.

anthony
anthony

If the guy wasn't diabetic ... would we even hear about him ???.... just another starving, and sick artist in the World... Join the Club !! ... now paint some pain and suffering pictures to add to the collection ... and then people will relate... what it is that you... the artist ... is going thru !!

calhounp
calhounp

i'd love to publish some of these comments in our print edition (especially yours, Yvonne!), ideally with your full name/town. Let me know if that's okay by e-mailing patricia.calhoun@westword.com. Or feel free to send a different letter for publication.

Yvonne
Yvonne

Which editor assigned this article and which one edited it? There is just something about the way this story is written that makes me not care at all about an issue that I really care about a lot. Most offensive this story appears to be written by someone who, instead of doing the background research necessary to understand and write a story about the emotional effect of Type 1 diabetes, used information obtained from a diabetic who has never resolved those issues. A good place to start would have been to read the book, Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Cure” by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg. The statement made about Type 2 diabetes, “Like Type 1 it is chronic and incurable” is not correct. Type 2 can be cured in the beginning with proper diet and exercise. I know because had Type 2, and I don’t now. For the last 45 years my artist mom has had Type 1. She is 85 years old. So I can speak or maybe write from a place of experience on that too. I have no argument that there is a lack of proper, affordable medical care, especially for chronic conditions, for all of us that don’t have an insurance plan provided through work or meet the requirements of social and charity funded programs. To use Bradley as a poster boy for this issue is just plain wrong. He is non-compliant to the dietary and other requirements that it takes to manage diabetes and minimize its effects. He is right about the supplies to treat diabetes being expensive. That $110 fine he paid or didn’t was enough to purchase a bottle of insulin. Maybe Bradley should spend more time on managing the disease than on creating art about …what I am not sure.

Jeff Meese
Jeff Meese

As a person who has lived with diabetes and insulin injections for over 25 years, may I suggest that the artist is NOT a diabetic artist, he is an artist who has diabetes. I refuse to be labeled by my disease!

Sandy in Denver
Sandy in Denver

Again (as I did after Amy Winehouse's death) I think, there needs to be a book: "Genius and Madness: What to do When your Muse is also a Demon."

Kdhoodlamb
Kdhoodlamb

Cant wait for his art show at crash 45 this friday, should be amazing! the address is 321 E 45th ave if you want to come down to get some of his art work!

YogaO
YogaO

A sadly fascinating story about a troubled young man.

The photographs of the starving young woman are pictures of the first (or one of the first) people to be given insulin. Prior to the discovery of insulin and a way to extract it from cow and pig pancreases, there was no treatment. The "therapy" was not starvation as reported here, but starvation was a symptom of the disease.

Frank Kwiatkowski
Frank Kwiatkowski

I agree a hundred percent. I have lost all respect for journalists. They aren't real writers. They're paid career people who suck ass.

dejahthoris
dejahthoris

A type 2 diabetic does not know the life of a type 1. It is a constant tightrope walk. You really have no idea. One one side, you never know when you will go low. If you ride a little high, then there is looming over you the eventuality of the horrible side effects. If ART helps him to cope with his condition, it is none of your business.

Jenny An
Jenny An

While I'm thrilled that your case of type 2 seemingly resolved itself, I'd like the state that according to the American Diabetes Association, there is no cure for diabetes types 1 or 2.

The story mentions how Bradley does not follow all the recommendations given to diabetics by doctors. I'm sorry if you feel he's been made into a "poster boy" for the issue.

dejahthoris
dejahthoris

Do a just a little research. Before the invention of insulin by Banting and Best, starvation was the only treatment for type 1 diabetes. And where do you get off saying this man is troubled? It sounds conscending. You don't know what it it like to have type 1.

christine2
christine2

Actually, many of the early doctors did use starvation as a treatment. You're right in saying that weight loss was a symptom of the disease as well. Look up "Novo Story of Insulin" on youtube and there's an excellent program about insulin and the history of diabetes treatment before that. Elliot P. Joslin was one of the people who pioneered starvation as a treatment for type 1 before insulin was invented.

Flgirl8
Flgirl8

I read the article just yesterday since I don't always get Westword. Being Type 1 for 33 years now and unemployed without insurance, I totally relate to your frustration with the US healthcare system. It is really expensive to pay for the necessary supplies & doctor visits- I calculate near $6000/year without insurance! Recent healthcare reform finally made it possible for Type 1s to get medical insurance on our own, but who can afford it for $310/month? That would be more than if I paid for everything on my own without insurance! Luckily my diabetes doctor has reduced the cost of an office visit to him and it includes the usual A1C blood test & results. Instead of the usual $400-$500 that would go through an employee's healthcare plan of which I used to pay about $30, the total charge to me is about $100. Those test strips that we depend on so much are the major portion of our expense. They can cost anywhere from $0.50-$0.80 each. If you use 6 a day as many of us should, that's $3-$5! It is a vicious system we live with- healthcare in the US! No one can understand the frustration without having the costs to deal with. I was glad to see that you can get some aid via the Barbara Davis Center; I probably should contact them also to get into a study for the free care & test strips you get!

 
Loading...