The voice inside my head would not be silenced. Out of the blue in 1994 I was commanded to paint. Over and over I heard only a single word, “ PAINT.” I ignored the voice and it became louder and louder… relentlessly taking over my life. I argued back with the voice, “ I am a Doctor of Audiology. I have never painted in my life (okay, but kindergarten does not count,) and you can’t make me!” My inner Buddha a.k.a. The Voice won this argument hands down (and damn, she is not to be reckoned with.) In desperation, I went to my local art supply store and was guided by an elder painter to choose acrylic paints. Without knowing how, without thought, I began to paint. The voice silenced.
But my story does not start with the call to paint. I am a native New York City gal from the lower east side before it was hip and I have been a keener since birth. What is a Keener?
Origin — Canadian Definition — a person, esp. a student, who is keen, enthusiastic, or zealous
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 2003
My mother would forbid me from taking my schoolwork on family trips to keep me from endless studying. School was my solace and I put all my efforts into excelling. Another plus to being a keener was that being a smart kid kept me safe. In our junior high, which was a particularly rough school, we smartypants bonded together… going to the bathroom in groups (bathrooms were a haven for bullies) and protecting
each other in the halls as we walked to class. During our two years of school together, we became a family of sorts. Out of school, we hung together, and I was introduced to the inside life of various cultures. Striving to be our best united us.
During my years at Bronx High School of Science, my keener school friend, Alice, rode with me on the hour-long-each-way subway ride to school. We studied on the train and talked about how we could do better in our classes. Once I was devastated because I got the lowest grade I ever received, an 83%, in social studies. I remember telling Alice how hard I studied and what else could I do? She simply replied, “Then you must study even harder.” There were no excuses. Since I graduated with honors, I got to sit on stage at Carnegie Hall during the ceremony. Oh big time! And as luck would have it, I got to sit next to a young man I had a crush on. Well, I remember nothing of what I am sure were inspiring speeches. Alas, he was going to another college and I never saw him again. The memorable day ended with my first glass of champagne and taste of caviar as my oh so proud grandmother took my parents and me to the Russian Tea Room after the ceremony.
I entered the State University of New York at Binghamton at age 16. In my first semester I became fascinated with the field of Biopsychology. I helped pay for my education by being a lab assistant and I ran rats and mice through mazes investigating the effects of various brain lesions. Midcourse, I realized that although I was captivated by the workings of the brain, I had way less interest in the rigors of the detail required for the study of neuro- anatomy. I had a heart to heart with myself and realized I wanted to help change the world. I became the first Women’s Studies major at Binghamton University and I interned for 2 years at the Binghamton Rape Crisis Center.
Because of the nature of that work, big time fear set in and I began martial arts training with Sensei Hidy Ochiai and studied Washin-ryu Karate-Do. I practiced kata (pre-arranged techniques) and sparring (free form exchange with a partner.) I will admit to having a chip on my shoulder when it came to men at the dojo. I know now it was a fear-based chip and FYI, I lost that chip quickly. The buzz from the men’s locker room was “ Watch out for Peterson, she does not like to lose to men (in sparring matches) and she has a killer side kick” (both true). I studied for 12 years at the headquarters in Vestal, NY and in out-of-state branches. When sensei and his branches were too far away, I studied Aki-Jitsu and Tai Chi in Virginia. I remain a fierce warrior of light.
When I graduated from university, I knew I could not continue being an activist for ending violence. I was unable to separate out myself from what I had thought would be my life’s work. I yearned for something that within a shorter time frame and certain boundaries I could continue to make an impact on the world. I returned to science which led to a 29-year career in Audiology, the diagnosis and rehabilitation of hearing loss. It is a profession I found by taking the Strong Interest Inventory, a career assessment tool. Ironically, my top three scores were Physician (well, I had tried that path with neuroscience), Artist/Writer (I put that aside in a flash…“ I can’t do that,” I said) and Audiologist. I had never heard of the field of Audiology. So I observed an Audiologist performing a hearing instrument fitting and saw a women’s life change in an hour. This was a foretelling and pivotal moment for me to see Audiology as rehabilitation (what happens after the diagnosis) which became my specialty. I was pulled to this field that could impact change on a daily (hourly) basis and combined science and a warm heart. Through three decades of work, I gave children and adults with hearing loss a voice in the conversation.
Since the call to paint in 1994, I was an Audiologist by day and a painter by night, weekend and every moment I could find. I kept my work private, painting voraciously in solitude for 19 years. I saw my story unfold on my canvas; it was a story I did not know. The voice, my inner Buddha commanding me to paint, coincided with a time in my life when I thought my light had been extinguished. As I painted I saw glimmers of my light on my canvas and it sustained me. I found a sacred space for shadow to emerge and found truth and clarity. I was transmuted.
In 2013, I experienced a bone deep sadness that I was alone with my paintings. Where before I was comforted to be surrounded by my work, I now had a cavernous longing to be seen and heard. The fear of sharing my story remained but my voice had found light. I was awakened. I had a certainty that I must pursue my art as a profession. I jumped off a cliff and my glorious life as an artist entrepreneur began. I retired as an Audiologist (well, semi–I maintain my licenses and still attend continuing education workshops.) I began taking business classes and incorporated Alicia R Peterson Art.
Also during that year, Philip Pearlstein curated The Art of the Figure, my first NY group show in which my work Shadow was exhibited at Gallery North in Setauket. I sought out painter Stan Brodsky at the Art League of Long Island knowing I needed the catalyst of critique and the stimulation of other artists to propel my work forward.
I work out of my studio on the north shore of Long Island. Recently I had works in various New York State galleries including: the Hutchins Gallery in Brookville, The Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills, Ripe Gallery in Huntington, Gallery North in Setauket and the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. I am determined that my light be heard
My greatest wish as an artist is that in sharing my story on canvas, you will hear your story in the universality of my paintings.
I have realized that it has always been about voices—giving others voice and then finding my voice through painting. I remain honored to be a Doctor of Audiology and will talk shop with you if you ask…perhaps for too long. But I’d rather talk about my art.