Local artist's neurological surgery leads to artistic discoveries with her left hand

This is Neosho artist Lori Marble's "Still on the Line." Marble recently had surgery to address a neurological disorder that impacts communication between the hemispheres of the brain. Following the surgery, she remained strongly right-handed, but she found new abilities with her left hand. Now, she is exclusively a left-handed painter. Courtesy|Lori Marble

When you’re left-handed, you’re in such a minority that you tend to notice other southpaws.

Being a lefty myself, it’s one of the first things that caught my eye as I got to know an increasing number of visual artists. There is a disproportion number of left-handers, compared with right-handers.

That only makes sense, considering that the left hand is controlled by the brain’s right hemisphere, the one associated with creative functions. Southpaws tend to excel creatively, while right-handers tend to be analytical, mathematical and logical — the functions of the left hemisphere of the brain.

Neosho artist Lori Marble got to put this to the test this year after having surgery to address a neurological disorder that impacts communication between the hemispheres of the brain. Following the surgery, she remained strongly right-handed, but she found new abilities with her left hand. Now, she is exclusively a left-handed painter.

“Now, I cannot paint with my right hand,” she says. “I hate the way it feels, and the paintings aren’t nearly as good.’’

An exhibit of her works, “Right Brain, Left Hand,” are on display during the month of October at Urban Art Gallery, 511 S. Main St. It includes 44 abstracts completed since her brain surgery.

Marble has a disorder known as dystonia. Basically, the two hemispheres of her brain don’t communicate with one another. As a movement disorder, it caused Marble to have muscle spasms, particularly during her sleep. Sometimes, her hand would draw so tightly that her fingernails would dig into the palm of her hand. There were times when one foot would drag out of time from the other one. Getting in and out of a car were real hassles.

It came to a head one morning as she was preparing to leave her kitchen with a cup of coffee. Nearby were stairs to the lower level of her home.

The left side of her body failed to get the signal that the rest of her body was moving. “My left leg stayed in the kitchen and rest of me went down the stairs,” she wrote in a blog that outlined her neurological journey.

Her eyeglasses cut into her head and her broken coffee cup cut into her leg. While those injuries were being treated at Joplin’s Mercy Hospital, where she works as director of strategic innovation, it was discovered that she had a brain bleed.

The accident became a blessing in disguise, says Marble. While she’d been told previously that little could be done about her dystonia, her fall and related injuries led her local doctor to refer her to someone in the know about dystonia, Dr. Kevin Mansfield, a Springfield neurosurgeon.

Dr. Mansfield suggested deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS), in which he would implant a brain electrode that would regulate her movements through electrical currents. It’s becoming a popular treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

The outpatient surgery was conducted in February, but before the DBS electrode could be activated, her brain needed time to heal from the surgery.

During a month of recovery, she decided to conduct before and after tests on her creative abilities.

“I began exploring the brain-creativity connection by painting in the abstract with my left hand, the side impacted by the dystonia and aided by the DBS,” she wrote in her blog.

She created what she called her Wonky series — 10 paintings before the DBS electrode was activated and 10 afterwards, each one of them numbered.

“The painting entitled ‘Wonky 11’ was painted within the first hour of being fully ‘bionic,’” she blogged. “It’s this joyous, little fluid painting — lots of reds, golds, pinks, and oranges. You can tell when compared to the earlier pieces that my movements were much more relaxed.”

She began painting exclusively with her left hand, and now she’s a prolific painter, creating an abstract a day. She begins with cursive writing in pencil with her left hand, communicating whatever is on her mind. That serves as a theme for the abstracts. She paints over the writing, but there are usually some of the cursive pencil lines left exposed in the work, lending to her trademark style.

Her abstracts have sold in the Spiva Center for the Arts Small Works Auction and the Friends of St. Avips virtual fundraising auction for Spiva, and one of the pieces in an exhibit she had at Joplin’s Bookhouse Cinema was purchased by a Kansas City customer. On top of this sudden success, she took honorable mention in this summer’s virtual exhibit of the Joplin Regional Artists Coalition. If you miss her exhibit at Urban Art Gallery, you can get a glimpse of her work through her entry in Spiva’s Membership Show, scheduled for Oct. 17 through Dec. 19.

She contends that she wouldn’t be creating this art were it not for her dystonia and the related surgery. Painting is her occupational therapy and it serves as an indicator of her progress. It’s also a distraction from stress, which worsens her dystonia. In that way, her art directly impacts her health.

“They’re completely married together,” she says.

Marble's work affirms the connection between creativity and left-handedness. Aside from her southpaw artwork, she remains right-handed. But we’ll accept her as a convert to the large circle of left-handed visual artists.

Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.