Diabetes Awareness Month: Appleton
This article is a reprint from Diabetics Feature
“My art,” says Appleton, “is about taking diabetic awareness to the streets.” Though it’s the first time we’ve met, I feel an instant connection with the NYC-based artist and photographer. We live in the same city, we’re both creatives at heart, and—perhaps our most bonding commonality—we both have type 1 diabetes.
Using his unique vision and graffiti-esque style, he has been creating T1D-themed murals and pieces for the past 40 years. His artistic interpretations of what it feels and looks like to live daily with T1D have resonated with his peers—but more importantly, he has gone beyond those with a direct connection by bringing the ever-familiar images of insulin bottles and syringes into the lives of passerbys who may not necessarily be affected by diabetes.
Appleton meets me at his gallery where his solo exhibit, “Out of the Cold” resides. As I admire and analyze each piece—the old school insulin vials jolting me right back to childhood—he greets me with a new piece of art under his arm and a large German shepherd by his side. His calm demeanor betrays nothing of his daily struggle with finger pricks and insulin injections, and his humbleness nothing of his artistic talent.
In fact, Appleton informs me that he survived a diabetic coma at the age of 6 years old—a life-altering experience that prompted him to begin collecting insulin bottles; the physical proof of his invisible and often misunderstood disease, today amounting to hundreds of bottles, faded syringes, and bloodied test strips.“Too many do not know the complications…the physical and psychological damage that diabetics go through daily, let alone a lifetime,” says Appleton.
His opinion translates into a number of jarring pieces; one depicting a ticking time bomb composed of orange-topped NPH bottles, another showing a vicious shark head jutting out of a black-and-white vial of Regular. I wonder if perhaps his artwork is also a history lesson for the newly-diagnosed; those who never knew the days of porcine insulin or remember the clanking sound of a cloudy bottle of NPH being mixed between ringed fingers.
While Appleton is acutely aware of the evolution of T1D therapies and their impact on daily life with diabetes, he also realizes how far we still have to go in terms of advocacy, awareness, and treatment.“Even with all the great advancements in diabetes, you still have to get insulin in your body and monitor your blood sugar,” says Appleton. “So really nothing has changed since the advent of insulin. People under the very best care are still at risk of losing limbs and going blind.”
Despite these harsh truths, Appleton is changing the way the world—diabetics and non-diabetics alike—view the disease. One of those people is the daughter of a friend who has T1D and passes his street art on the way to school every day.
According to the friend, whenever his daughter sees the artwork, “she smiles and looks up to [Appleton, thinking] she’s in a secret club.”
Hopefully all of us—the little girl, Appleton, myself, and the 30 million Americans affected by some form of diabetes—won’t be in that secret club forever. Until that day comes, Appleton will continue to use art to inspire us all to never stop fighting.