Amy Koy started her long, arduous road to a college education with a lie. She answered "no" to a question on her application to Radcliffe College to hide the fact that she had been in therapy for anorexia.
That lie only compounded the pain and strife she says she went through with her family, who viewed her status as a psychiatric patient not only as a grave disappointment, but as a situation that brought shame on the family. No one outside of the immediate family was to know.
However, her illness--thought to be schizophrenia--caught up with her after she spent a semester at Radcliffe, and at age 18 she had to leave school. This experience was the beginning of a long journey through four more colleges. For many years--most spent without medication or knowledge of her true diagnosis--Ms. Koy tried to piece together a life independent of her parents. Finally, with the help of Fountain House and the Art Students League, she was able to fulfill her dream of living and studying art in New York. In 1999, at the age of 51, she received a bachelor's degree in studio art from Hunter College in New York.
Ms. Koy has participated in several group shows in New York, notably a joint exhibition in February with Jonathan Glass at the Fountain Gallery. Several of her pieces have sold, but she still worries that she lacks the social skills necessary to attain true success in the art world. Still, her perseverance in pursuing her goal of studying art in New York hints at a fierce determination.
BY DEEANNA FRANKLIN
RELATED ARTICLE: The Artist's Reflections
I've learned that knowing something about bones and muscles makes [art] more compelling and involving. I enjoy the challenge of getting the anatomy right. I'm using oils and painting models. It's the academic model of learning representational drawing, which I know many people currently don't think too highly of. But I've started in with anatomy and have stuck with it.
When I was a kid, I did every type of painting but not oils until late high school. I really love colors. I love putting colors next to one another, and certain color combinations really resonate with me. I love orange and purple next to each other--which is kind of a Matisse thing. I love aqua. I love salmon ... all kinds of Matisse-like colors. I like to get a painting to a place where it tells me what to do. My current teacher says that's the high of painting--the painting tells you what it needs to develop. In class, I usually spend about 3 hours of painting each afternoon. It usually takes me about 15 hours of class time to complete a figure painting.
I had a very choppy educational history. As a child, I went to 11 schools in 11 years. My father was in the foreign service, so we lived overseas for various periods. It was extremely traumatic. You make friends, and not only will you never see them again, but they're halfway around the world. Finally, I just stopped trying to make friends.
I was born in Shanghai, China, and my father was working for the United Nations in 1948. It was a very dramatic time. The communists were approaching Shanghai, and I was their first child. Then 3 weeks after I was born, they had to quickly leave Shanghai because of the political situation. My early grade school years were spent in New Delhi, India. And then during my junior high years, we lived for a 1 1/2 years in Dares Salaam, Tanzania. The rest of the time we lived in the Washington, D.C., area, in northern Virginia.
When I was 16, I developed anorexia, and I went from 127 pounds--and I'm 5'4"--to 98 pounds. I think it was a cry for help. I lost the weight, and I was quite underweight. I also started exercising compulsively. I was taken to the family physician and referred to a psychiatrist. He wouldn't tell me my diagnosis. I was inquisitive and desperate to know, so I set up an insurance situation where he …