As the door opens to Cliff Enright’s Manhattan loft, the vibrant watercolor paintings lining the exposed brick wall explode before you in arresting jeweled hues. The intricate white patterns that speckle the paintings appear both painstakingly deliberate yet playfully chaotic. And the indulgent use of deep, bright colors seems to stem from nothing short of a wellspring of pure joy – a feeling that cannot be shaken long after you’ve seen the works. It is a feeling that stays with you long after you’ve met the artist.
As vibrant and colorful as his paintings, Cliff’s charm and optimism are matched only by the love he has for his craft. An abstract expressionist and art instructor since the 1960s, Cliff came to New York City to pursue his passion. But it was a freak accident in 2004 that would dramatically alter his life and his artwork – but not his resolve.
“I was in England visiting friends and I went outside to smoke a cigarette,” recalls Cliff. “I dropped it. When I reached down to pick it up, I kept falling forward. I felt my chin hit the ground and my head snapped back. I tried to get up and I couldn’t move.”
The spinal cord injury Cliff suffered that evening a decade ago left him a quadriplegic. He faced a long, difficult road ahead. But with the help of his long-time partner, Virginia, numerous health care professionals and aids, and his artwork, Cliff took on the challenge of rehabilitation with the same dedication and tenacity that he always brought to his work.
“I started with art therapy right away. I was making just scribbles and scrabbles, but I was working in art from the very beginning,” he recalls. “I just kept painting, and gradually improving and gradually painting more.”
His willful stubbornness, coupled with a remarkable optimism has helped Cliff recover some mobility and strength in his hands and arms. It has also served him well through other physical and emotional trials along the way.
“It seems to me as both Cliff’s friend and his art dealer, that there is nothing that would keep him down,” remarks Robin Glazer, Founder and Director of The Creative Center at University Settlement. “He has had a number of other illnesses besides a spinal cord injury. He’s been diagnosed with diabetes and skin cancer, and has gone through treatments and medication trials and all sorts of interventions, and he still keeps working.”
Cliff is among a number of artists represented by The Creative Center at University Settlement, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the creative arts to people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses. Along with free-of-charge art workshops and hospital-based bedside art programs, The Creative Center exhibits and markets the artwork of professional artists living with illness.
Today, with the help of an art assistant, Cliff continues to be a prolific and celebrated artist. His artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States and Canada, and is part of both corporate and private collections around the world.