Rheumatologist discovers her creative side after head injury.
While en route to a conference in 2016, Umbreen Hasan, M.D., saw her life take an unexpected turn after a being involved in a serious car accident. “After the accident, I had a concussion and short-term memory loss with it and lots of trauma,” says Hasan, a rheumatologist.
Through happenstance, a visit to a local craft store during her recovery transformed into a second career. After taking a wrong turn down the paint aisle, a creative urge sparked to life. Hasan bought some painting supplies and returned home to make her first-ever painting—surprising her family, as well as herself.
“When my family saw [the painting] in the evening, they actually didn’t believe initially that I had painted the painting,” the Plymouth resident says of Twilight, the acrylic painting she created using gravity as a tool. She attributes this newfound creativity to her accident, explaining, “You have the factual side of the brain and then you have the artistic side. When I had the head trauma, the artistic side became activated.”
After initially working with acrylic paint, Hasan rapidly moved on to other mediums, discovering that her newly-awakened artistic side allowed her to pick up on techniques and approaches without seeking out instruction or training. “Since I didn’t undergo any training in fine art, I don’t use paintbrushes,” she says. “For me, using the hair dryer, or fire, or my hands or a hammer, these are the things I generally started painting with.”
While any of those items might seem like an unorthodox substitute for a paintbrush, Hasan’s medium of choice—alcohol inks—is the reason for her unique repertoire of paint tools. When she started painting with alcohol ink in 2017, Hasan says the medium was largely unexplored on a large scale or taken seriously in a fine art context. As dye floating in concentrated alcohol, this type of ink dries incredibly fast and is still used primarily for small decorative pieces.
Instead, Hasan decided to create large-scale, vibrant abstract paintings with the tricky medium. “… anything that’s challenging is what attracts me,” she says. “If you don’t move the color quickly, the alcohol will evaporate, and you won’t have anything left other than splashes of color.”
Hasan uses canned air, fire and gravity to coax out ethereal swirls of vibrant color from layers of pigment. “Most people like it a lot because it’s a very unique medium,” Hasan says. “[The colors] really fade out towards the edges, so they’re very beautiful. You can’t get that effect from acrylics or oil.”
With COVID restrictions in place, Hasan removed her paintings from the local galleries where they were being shown. Now, she fulfills commissions and uploads behind-the-scenes videos to Instagram. Alcohol ink workshops, which Hasan started teaching at a St. Paul studio in 2020, were put on hold, as materials (concentrated alcohol, masks and gloves) became essential medical supplies. Hopefully, the workshops will return in 2022.