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 Vol. 10, No. 31

August 1-7, 2002

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Lali at 49 West
by April Falcon Doss

On a quiet street in West Annapolis sits a house filled with lush green plants and eclectic art. Part old, part new, the house on Tucker Street mirrors the transformation of literature and language professor Eulalia Cobb into artist Lali, who lives here.

It was an unexpected shift — she hadn’t drawn or painted in decades — precipitated by an illness that has transformed her daily life and work, even her ways of thinking. The results of that four-year transformation will be on display through August in a one-woman art show at 49 West in Annapolis.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, to lose control without losing my mind,” Lali laughs, as if it hadn’t been hard at all. A self-possessed woman of about 60, she wears a black knit tank top, long black knit skirt and black flip flops. Her glasses are propped up on her head, tucked into bobbed thick, dark hair — she has good hair — shot through with a touch of gray. The austerity of all the black is enlivened by jewelry: two thick silver rings on each hand, a wide silver bracelet, silver earrings, a silver fish dangling from a cord around her neck.

Her laugh, with her smile, seems full of both humor and joy. Both recur as she explains her evolution from college professor and academic dean to artist.

“Beginning in 1991, I began having trouble reading things. I suddenly couldn’t deal with numbers at all. I was becoming somewhat aphasic,” she says. “I can’t tell you what panic this produced. What I was” — a highly competent intellectual — “was being taken away from me.”

As it turned out, Lali was ill. In 1994, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, which she explains as much worse than it sounds. “And I had what I call my hemispheric shift.”

“I was lying in bed one day in despair, really, really sick, and I thought to myself, What would it look like to be healthy? I jumped out of bed and drew a picture. It was a very playful sort of thing, this kind of wordless, wonderful experience. Two hours went by, and I felt better, I didn’t feel so sick anymore.”

The picture was a message — drawn perhaps from her reading, perhaps from some deeper source.

“What I drew was a woman standing with her feet planted firmly on the ground and hands raised. I found out much later that this is an ancient representation of the goddess. I just thought it looked like an image of strength and health,” she explained.

Lali continued to draw in the light-filled studio on the second floor of her home. Painting provided her with what she describes as “times of total absorption when I didn’t have to think of any words.”

After a left-brain lifetime of logic, organization, discipline and method, Lali fled into the right-brain world of images, color and paint. She attributes her “hemispheric shift” to the neurological effects of her illness.

Still, some of her old habits persisted. “After a lifetime as a professional person,” she explains, “it never occurred to me that my art would be just a little hobby. It had to be something I did as a way to communicate, to be a bridge to other people. And so, on some level, I took it seriously from the start.”

So Lali made herself a professional artist. She started with a line of seven greeting cards. Walking into a local shop — “with terror in my heart, for I had no credentials, no background, no nothing” — to sell them was the second hardest thing she’d ever done. But she made the sale.

Lali’s cards (currently a collection of some 43 designs) now sell throughout Maryland, as well as in Philadelphia, Montana and Martha’s Vineyard. The cards range from whimsical to soothing, romantic to inspiring. They depict women, nature, food, pets.

More art followed. Lali has done prints, logos and magazine illustrations. She’s currently working on a nine-by-nine-foot wall for a wine cellar in her native Spain.

As she designs it, she hears the echoes of her youth, growing up in Barcelona a few blocks from the startling yet playful architecture of Gaudi. The city is filled with art nouveau stylings, many of them fusing women with nature, entwining vines and leaves with the female form. These same images and themes recur throughout Lali’s work: part old, part new.

Showing August 1-28; reception, Su August 4, 4-8pm @ 49 West Coffeehouse/ Winebar, 49 West Street, Annapolis: 410/626-9796.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly