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Illboard: A diabetic artist takes to the streets

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

Bradley began posting his art on July 10, 2009, on the one-year anniversary of Papp's death.

Today he lives alone in a Capitol Hill apartment with a six-month lease."I think we're all worried about him," Monica says.

Bradley's worried, too.

Photos: See a sampling of Bradley's work in our slide show.

At his last meal of the day, he often eats more than he should, he says, because he fears his blood sugar might fall too low during the night. While high blood sugar is dangerous — and he has been waking up with higher-than-recommended sugar levels lately — low blood sugar is even worse. If he wakes up with high sugar, he can give himself an insulin injection. If his blood sugar falls too low, he might suffer a violent seizure.

Bradley estimates that he has ten to twenty insulin reactions every year. One was at his mother's birthday dinner in mid-July, when he became moody — a recognized symptom. First he picked a fight because the conversation over the table was too much "talk of the weather," he remembers. Then he became dizzy and stumbled around until he eventually laid on the floor. He tried to put words together, but they just came out a slurred garble.

After some Smarties, though, Bradley recovered and returned to his place as "the village idiot, making wisecracks and making people laugh," he says.

Bradley always carries a bottle of water, because diabetes makes you thirsty; it also makes you go to the restroom frequently. This phenomenon is well documented; that's why one nickname for the illness is "the pissing devil." Bradley uses that for an e-mail address.

He's thinking about changing his permanent address. "This climate doesn't suit me," he says of Denver. "I need somewhere that doesn't make me so aware of my condition." Monica lives in Seattle and has invited him to stay with her. But while Colorado's dry climate aggravates his symptoms, it also cures his prints quickly.

Bradley's also considered moving to Canada. Insulin was discovered in Toronto, a fact he notes in a novella posted on the Kwiatkowski Press site about a diabetic named Barry Hoften. And the promise of free health care is also alluring. But he hasn't figured out the logistics — visas, where to go, how to get there — and without contacts and a college degree, he doubts he could make a decent living. "I think about it a lot, but I don't act on it," he says. "I think I lack conviction. I lack courage."

******

On a sunny afternoon, Brian Bradley bikes around Capitol Hill to check on the prints he's put up. The first three are gone, and he agonizes as he stares at a pole where a poster once hung. He'd only put it up a few days earlier, and he liked the fact that it was facing Colorado Pharmacy on East Colfax Avenue. He thumbs the staples that once held the print to the pole.

"It's like being erased," he mutters.

Haywood sees two primary themes in Bradley's work: the autobiographical images and those of Frank the Prank, a much jokier, less genuine force. "I think there is a separation," Haywood says. "I don't know if that's his intent, but I see that."

Bradley admits that Frank Kwiatkowski is a slightly different persona. "Frank's better than I am," he says. "He can do things that I can't. It's what you aspire to be. It's what keeps the gears going."

Through Frank Kwiatkowski, Bradley is able to jump out of the reality of managing diabetes. "I think reality is a really dangerous place for me," he says. "Frank keeps my own self safe from reality."

And reality can be grim. "I am Frankenstein's monster," Bradley says. "There's something very supernatural about the state that I'm in."

Only science is keeping him alive, he explains: "You want to die, but they're not going to let you die. And they're telling you that it's wrong to die. And that they're going to keep you here. And why are we going to keep you here? Because we have this medicine."

Shortly before his wife died, he remembers, she told him, "I want you to stay here." He took that to mean both the apartment complex where they lived — he stayed, but moved into a smaller unit — and to stay alive. "I think if I had known she was going, I would have joined her," he says. "When you have to survive something like that, it motivates you — but I think she's still in me."

Bradley talks about Mark Twain, and how he was born and died under Halley's Comet. It was a sign, he says, and he's waiting for his. "It takes a lot of faith to end yourself," he says. "Kurt Cobain had the decency to die. I do not have the decency to die."

He's constantly fatigued these days and doesn't think his condition will improve. "I don't want to know if there's anything wrong with me, because if there is, that's the course of nature," he says. "I'm supposed to go out."

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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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 
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