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Morgan Park Man Uses Art To Combat His Multiple Sclerosis

Mark Somerville

Mark Somerville takes on a certain glow when talking about his artwork, just like the works themselves.

Somerville's art is best described as pointillism — a technique that uses tiny dots of various colors. When placed under a black light, Somerville's art changes.

The bright orange and neon green dots become deep purple and bright blue under the ultraviolet light. Patterns, perhaps unseen to the naked eye, come to life in the dark.

Somerville, 55, of Morgan Park describes himself as a "reluctant artist." He has no formal training. Rather, he turned to art as a way to combat his symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

This unpredictable disease disables the central nervous system. More than 2.3 million people are affected by M.S. worldwide. Somerville was diagnosed in September 1990.

"I had just gotten back from a family driving vacation, and my feet had fallen asleep. They never woke up," Somerville said.

The symptoms of M.S. often include numbness and tingling in the extremities, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Abnormal fatigue, vision problems and attention or memory issues can also result from the disease. Severe cases lead to blindness and paralysis.

Somerville suffered two major attacks. The first was in January 2005 when his hands and feet went numb. The second attack in July 2005 left him unable to feel hot and cold sensations on the left side of his body.

The attacks eventually sidelined his career as a Cook County auditor. He left the job in 2005, receiving disability benefits.

Somerville said his symptoms improved after he was freed of the stress of the workplace. But he still felt restless. He combated these feelings by drawing, a skill he learned as a teen.

He initially drew mazes. One day in 2010, his daughter suggested simply drawing dots.

"I didn't know anything about pointillism," Somerville said.

He uses thin paper and a light board or tracing table to bring his designs to life. Behind the paper, Somerville places patterns. He then subtly hides these patterns within the art.

The patterns come alive beneath the black light — a consequence Somerville stumbled upon when he screwed both a black and red light bulb into his desk lamp. Several of his pens glowed.

"It was a classic light bulb moment," he said.

Somerville was creating these pointillism projects for years before a friend brought them to the attention of the Judith Racht Gallery in Harbert, Mich. The gallery agreed to feature Somerville's drawings in summer 2013, splitting the profits evenly between the artist and the gallery.

Somerville isn't comfortable in the spotlight but eventually allowed the gallery to showcase his work. He's since sold 11 of his pieces for $500 each.

"This evolved as a very private, personal thing," Somerville said.

He added that many nights and weekends he'd retreat to his home to work on his drawings. Few of his friends even knew this was what he was doing with his time.

But he felt the drawings helped to keep his M.S. at bay. One of the few people he shared this revelation with was his friend of 15 years David Ley, a Lakeview-based social worker and therapist.

Ley was researching mandalas, or circular patterns used as spiritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism. He saw similarities in Somerville's pointillism and encouraged him to continue producing his drawings as a form of treatment.

Indeed, Arney Rosenblat, a spokeswoman for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, didn't discount the therapeutic effects of Somerville's art.

"M.S. is very different from person to person," Rosenblat said.

She referenced talk show host Montel Williams, who has taken to snowboarding to combat his M.S. There's also a research project underway to see if video games can help those diagnosed with the disease.

Somerville feels his pointillism projects help maintain the flow of information within his brain and between his brain and body. He doesn't present the art form as cure-all, merely as a therapy that's paid dividends for him.

"It would be difficult for me not to draw," he said.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by DNAINFO
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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