Renowned Quad City artist, Raphael Iaccarino, of Davenport, still finds all the colors in the world, despite an ongoing battle with arthritis and the effects of six decades of artistic demands. “Art is what frees me to pursue my imagination, and in doing so, there is no room in my life for pain.”
Many know Ralph by his spectacularly colorful and massive botanical watercolors that not only grace the walls of Quad City landmarks, but also the homes of notables, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, and Oscar Arias, two-time president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Yet few know this favored, local son is also an accomplished musician and pianist, who has recorded nine albums, with two different bands. He is also committed to sharing his artistic passion as an art educator, working with students of all abilities. “I enjoy the creative process — any life well-lived is worth recording in any medium — music, paint, or in words.”
Ralph’s celebration of the artistic process, in both painting and his musicianship, has been colored by a continual battle with arthritic pain. Lugging his massive paintings to shows and galleries over the world, exploring the Costa Rican rainforests for new botanical inspiration, or even simply holding a brush in a particular grip for hours and subsequent years, have all taken their toll. “I love working with my hands, and have a perverse love for manual labor. It’s my age, and it’s the miles,” says the 68-year-old.
At one point, Ralph’s pain forced him to take a sabbatical and undergo a series of surgeries and treatments that would eventually allow him to paint, play, and create again. “I had to stop working for two years. When you have a lot of pain, it detracts from your ability to concentrate; instead, the energy goes into managing the pain, not the creative process.”
Orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Ryan Dunlay and Dr. Timothy Millea, ORA Orthopedics, are two of his most recent ORA physicians to treat Ralph over the years. In 2008, Dr. Millea performed back surgery and fused two lower vertebrae to treat spinal stenosis (an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal). Dr. Dunlay currently treats Ralph’s arthritis at the base of the painter’s thumb, as well as providing ongoing pain management for Ralph’s shoulder. “As a painter, he must hold his arm in certain positions, and over time, one can develop arthritis. He has an amazing creative spirit, and our goal is to keep Ralph painting,” vows Dr. Dunlay.
“In many ways, Ralph is very typical of a generation of strong and talented senior patients who have personal goals to fulfill, but develop chronic conditions with age,” adds Dr. Millea. “None of us are 18 any more, but there is so much yet we want to accomplish. In Ralph’s case, his creative energy is still there. We want him to keep painting as long as possible, and maintain his quality of life.” Both physicians suggest patients seek medical advice if pain begins to limit their life. “We can do so much to help restore function and movement, and many options don’t require surgery,” they affirm.
For Ralph, while surgeries have allowed him to create again, he undergoes periodic anti-inflammatory injections to manage recurring arthritic pain. “I feel so much better. I can paint again, and I’m not done,” he says. Ralph is currently making plans to travel to Columbia to gain new inspiration. “I’ll just see what moves me, but I know new experiences will recharge my work.”
When not traveling, painting, composing, or teaching, he also takes great joy in his three children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. “I still feel like I’m 10 inside,” he smiles. Looking ahead to his seventh decade, his creative passion is colored with joyous optimism, “My best work is yet to come.”
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Photos courtesy of ORA Orthopedics