Artist's fight against breast cancer inspires painting series now on display at cultural center

Kelli Pellegrini is a survivor, a fighter and a expressionist painter who is bursting with humor and the passion to share her story with others the plight of fighting breast cancer. Her journey has been a long one, mixed with the emotions that one would experience when facing this disease. As a way to voice her unspoken words, Pellegrini picked up a brush and some paints as a voice. The resulting exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center is headlined "No Words."GARY ALLEN - Kelli Pellegrini, an expressionist painter and clinical psychologist, created a series of paintings in response to her diagnosis in September 2012 of breast cancer. Her work is on exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

"Going through diagnosis, treatment and the aftermath of cancer is shattering," she said. "There are frequently no words to describe the range of experiences and feelings. But there is art."

Pellegrini was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer in September 2012. Pellegrini, a clinical psychologist, said on her website that she painted with the "intention to convey with honesty, acceptance and compassion the realities of a journey through and beyond cancer. As a clinical psychologist, I went into this journey assuming I had the emotional aspects covered. Wrong. As a person of faith, I thought I would naturally experience peaceful acceptance of this new chapter in life. Wrong. As a woman living in North America, I had a vague and somewhat glossy idea of breast cancer as having to do with ribbons and pink sparkles. Wrong. As a casual dabbler in crafty art, I thought it might help to paint what I was experiencing, thinking and feeling. Right."

Those viewing Pellegrini's work probably wouldn't suspect she only had two semesters of artistic training at George Fox University, but she found additional inspiration from Bob Ross, who famously hosted a painting show on public television for decades.

"He always said in painting there's no such thing as a mistake," Pellegrini said.

She decided to dabble a bit with painting and watched Ross's show and sold a few paintings. Then grad school took over her life and she laid down her brush to focus on education.

It was not until nine to 10 months after her diagnosis that she felt like painting once again.

"I knew that after surgery, I was going to be sitting around in the house. I decided that during the break, to see if I could create what was in my heart," she said. "I painted them for myself, initially, I never intended to share them with anybody. I just had images and ideas in my head of what it is like."

Pellegrini has a painting in the CCC exhibit titled "Rage" that portrays a very angry woman with her piercing eyes and her nose crinkled, there are splashes of red and black paint crisscrossed in the background and over the woman's' face.

"That is not about rage about having cancer, (but) rage about how everything is different after treatments," she said. "All the physical changes, the energy level changes, hormone changes."

Another painting different than the others is titled, "Seriously?" The pallet is full of bright colors with a green and blue background, two purple giraffes and an emu staring at the observer.

"That is my sarcastic expression of all the well-meaning things that people say that are so the wrong things to say. I identify with the emu guy. The purple giraffe are so well intentioned and so miss the mark," she said. "There are a couple of paintings that survivors can relate to and this is one of them. They tell me that they can understand that one."

The CCC exhibit will continue until Feb. 3.

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