A Personal Journey: Concepts of Mental Health and Consciousness

April 18, 2015

Describe the concepts behind your art work, and how these have changed over the years

Art has always been the most important thing in my life, my passion for it reflected through my growing knowledge of art and artists, interest in contemporary art and also in my own artwork. My connection with art stems from a very young age; as a child I was always busy making collages, drawing and sewing. I have always searched for a deeper meaning through my artwork, and art has always been something that has driven me, giving me the greatest sense of fulfilment.

At it’s core, my art work has always been focused around both identity and consciousness; what it feels like to be ‘human’. This self-reflective and narrative style of working has helped me to understand the healing qualities that making art work brings. Through image making, I have come to realise that my art work has been a tool to help me better understand myself, and to enable me to come to terms with difficult feelings and events that have occurred throughout my life. My visual diaries that I kept for many years acted as form of personal therapy, an outlet.

This understanding lead me to my current role as an occupational therapy assistant, working alongside both occupational therapists and other therapeutic professionals. In my job, I explore creative potential with individuals, looking at how this can improve their mental health, and lead them also to a sense of self-awareness and unity. Later this year, I will be studying an Art Psychotherapy Masters course at Goldsmiths University in London. My current art work follows my own personal journey before training, and inevitably touches on the experiences of others that I encounter.

While my earlier work focused on the theme of portraiture, in both conventional and nonconventional depictions, my recent work is more abstract and heavily influenced by my work in mental health services. The connection between the two being a fascination of humanity and human experience. My interest in image making has not only helped me become an improved communicator, but also through my experiences understand how art is a central tool for human interaction and emotional expression.

Through my recent work, I have explored the nature of consciousness, as well as the altered states of mind people experience through illness, drugs, hallucinations and dreams. My art has allowed me to contemplate intense emotional states experienced through my work with psychiatric patients. While I have worked with patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric illnesses, I have also seen others afflicted by multiple traumas and losses. I feel that this is something that we all as humans can relate to, and I hope that my work can speak to people on a deeper level. Dreams, hallucinations, or the intricacies in our neurological processes are not concrete experiences, but abstract to us and difficult to share with others in any true sense.

I wondered if by sharing my interpretations, I could communicate ideas and experiences that would be more difficult to do so verbally. I side with the notion that each one of us are on a spectrum of mental health, and my understanding has only deepened through working. As a nature byproduct of my role’s close proximity to the patients, at times I have absorbed some of their unresolved and unprocessed material and feelings. Through this, getting in touch with something deep and sometimes disturbing can be quite alarming, perhaps dipping a metaphorical toe into another’s sense of reality. While I feel that my art has expressed my own thoughts and ideas on these complex subjects, only through others can I discover if the works can hold shared meanings, understanding and experience.

Although I strongly believe that my own artistic expression is a personal one, it would be hard to refute the influence, whether subconsciously or directly, of the patients on my expression. This would be through both transference and counter transference. When leading art classes for the patients on the wards, they share with me aspects of their inner worlds through the art, I then contemplate these interactions. I feel that much of this happens at an unconscious level.

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How do you represent abstract experiences in the physical medium of painting and collage?

I began this body of work through the use of visual diaries. I found concertina sketchbooks an effective way to experiment with ideas, and give a sense of a journey. These sketchbooks have inspired larger art works on canvas and paper, the themes explored and expanded upon.

Primarily, I use my own experiences of dreams and hallucinations; particularly hypnopompic hallucinations and the stages that I experience before drifting to sleep. The flashing images and surreal content does not make sense on waking, but in this state one is more aware of the subconscious and its processes. Not only is collage a medium that I have used for many years, I feel it is also a way to work impulsively and automatically, linking well to the subconscious. Through making these works, I quickly identify images that I find both appealing and disturbing. The process of the art making is also one of working from within, often adding layers without knowing where the image is going. By trusting an ‘inner sense’, the spontaneity of splashing and dripping paint feels intuitive. With an idea of a greater theme, such as dreams or psychosis, the process of the art is in a state of flow.

As well as using images in collage, I have also been using words, exploring the use of language and its fragmentation. Moreover, with such experiences words can become an irrelevant way of recording. I have used different colour combinations and layering as a way to suggest confusion, euphoria and dreamlike experiences in psychosis and other altered and extreme emotional states. The multiplicity of colours and layers are also an attempt to reflect our state of flux and continuous change in experience.

Through further research into neurology and visiting the Wellcome Collection, I became heavily influenced by Neurological photographs and CT scans. In my work, the scientific imagery links the abstract and physical aspects of being. Recent research in attachment theory and neurology has underlined the physical impact that mental illnesses and trauma have on the brain. I was both intrigued and inspired by the beautiful and intricate patterns of neurones and cells. Many of the circular formations of my works are inspired by these shapes. Circles in a broader sense are repeated throughout nature, and have a quality of wholeness and of sense of self. Many of my works feature mandalas, an archetype present in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, circular patterns symbolising a balance in the universe.

Artistic influences

Recently, I’ve drawn inspiration from mixed media artist Chris Ofili. I’m attracted to his innovative use of collage and creation of new imagery. I hope to explore some of his mixed media techniques further, such as the use of polyester resin and other unconventional art materials. His experimental use of colour and sense of freedom has gripped me since the first time I saw it in person at the Tate Modern. I feel that through studying his work I have learnt a great deal.chris-ofili-new-museum-05

Chris Ofili, Third Eye Vision, 1999

Oil, acrylic, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen

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