Dr. Matthew Wetschler is a physician, artist, and former professional athlete. In 2017 he suffered a spinal cord injury while body surfing near his home at Ocean Beach. During the event he drowned and had a death experience - his heart had stopped for approximately 10 minutes. Prior to his accident, he had completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at Stanford University and was practicing as a part-time physician and painter living in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco. His injury leaves him with right sided weakness and without feeling or fine-motor coordination of his hands. His work explores our relationship with limits, edges, and the space beyond.
In 2017 I was rescued from the ocean with no pulse after drowning. The estimate was that I had been dead for nearly ten minutes. During that time I have no memory, no recollection of angelic tones nor a white light. I experienced absolutely nothing. Yet once I awoke, I was unquestionably different in a way that was ineffable. My body knows something, has lived something, that my mind has not. I feel it but I cannot describe it.
Each piece begins with a movement or ritual, executed in repetition. I use positioning, stress, or duration to reach physical failure and then capture the result. The discomfort associated with exhaustion is overwhelming and my mind briefly silences. In these moments there is only motion and effort, and the body speaks unencumbered by language or logic.
My methods draw on other action-oriented artistic practices of the 1950’s and 60’s such as FLUXUS artists, the Gutai movement in post-war Japan, Tom Marioni’s line drawings and, most significantly, Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint project. The canvas is treated as an arena for action rather than a window for representation.
My artistic practice is an ongoing effort of documentation and has, in one sense, a purely clinical narrative in which my injured spinal cord slowly heals, and my limbs regain their strength and sensation. However, my flirtation with death has left an imprint, one that is felt rather than remembered and I cannot express it in words or images.
I am an archaeologist of my own lived experience and every painting is an act of excavation. My work is a transference of unfiltered energy, captured as gouges and troughs on the surface of a canvas. In the forms and lines that result, there is the struggle of my ever changing physical limits but also a hope to capture the ephemeral. To find a language to share with others something I only know through my body.
What remains is an artifact, the most relevant part of the work being not where the paint is but rather where it isn’t. The sculptural channels and lines encircle space through which my body had moved. What is held in that space? An energy? The story of physical repair and growth? The whispers of my bodies memory? When we encounter the ineffable in our own lives, what should we do? Ignore it, define ourselves by it, or honor and live with it?
KTVU: South Bay ER doctor makes miraculous recovery after surfing accident left him a quadriplegic
Dec 22, 2017 - SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - A true "Christmas miracle." That's how some people describe the extraordinary case of Dr. Matthew Wetschler. The Valley Medical Center emergency room doctor had a surfing accident in November that left him a quadriplegic.
ABC: Pioneering spine injury protocol leads to holiday miracle for surfer injured at Ocean Beach
Dec 22, 2017 - Thirty-seven-year-old Matthew Wetschler was body surfing off Ocean Beach last month but crashed head-first into a wave. His spine was broken and he had no pulse when another surfer was able to get him back to shore.
NBC Bay Area: New Guidelines for Spinal Cord Injuries Helping Bay Area Surfer Walk Again
Dec 22, 2017 - Matt Wetschler became the first person to benefit from newly-created guidelines developed at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. By Laura Malpert.
Mercury News: Remarkable recovery: Bay Area surfer who broke neck takes first steps
Dec 22, 2017 - Dr. Matthew Wetschler, center, works with physical therapist Danielle Nekimken, right, an therapy technician Marion Leano, left, using the Zero G technology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center in San Jose, Calif.