Can you make a painting about mental health? I think I’d rather be sitting here writing about anything other than painting and mental health. The fact that I’ve been cogitating over writing this post for over two weeks rather than just sit down at the keyboard and get started is testament to that. So, why am I writing this now? well, this week I found out that I have had two paintings selected for The Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition 2018 at the Mall Galleries in London.
Yes, of course I am delighted and honoured to have two paintings in the exhibition. Last year I had had the pleasure of having one painting selected, it was called ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’ and was rather tongue in cheek and humorous, or so I thought.
This was quite similar to a lot of my work I was doing At the time. I love to laugh and have quite a dark quirky sense of humour. I also really enjoy calmness and tranquility. These are things I like, these are things I strive for and try to fill my life with. So these were the things I painted, cute pictures often of animals or still lives depicting a happy idyllic life. A reflection of the life I was leading, and certainly wanted to live but also of the image that I wanted to project, everything was well. Some part of me, quite a large part of me, thought that I had to paint happy paintings, bring the world happiness through my work.
But what do you paint when everything isn’t going well? Do you still paint happy scenes in a controlled palette with neat brush strokes or do you lose control and put your pain on the canvas? In June in just over two days I chose to do this, or rather, I didn’t choose to do this, it happened and I shared it with the world. The outcome was two paintings which I genuinely thought would not be of interest to anyone. Because to me they represent pain, frustration, disappointment, hurt, longing, confusion and loss. Who wants a painting about all of these awful feelings. I mentioned this to a good artist friend last week and she reminded me about Edvard Munch’s ‘The scream’, so ok, some people do want paintings about darker subjects, but I didn’t think they would want my paintings.
I am currently caring for someone close to me who is really struggling with life. It is affecting them both physically and mentally and is having a huge impact on everyone they know. They constantly tell me ‘you don’t understand!’ and it’s true, I don’t understand, as much as I try to, I cannot be in their place experiencing what they are going through. When I painted this I tried to imagine how they must be feeling. To me it seemed as if the world was overwhelming them and their problems feel like boulders falling down from the sky. Their head is pierced by all of the negative thoughts and anxiety that rip into them. Where do you hang a painting like this? What conversations will it start?
In this second painting I was thinking more about myself when I painted it. I get the irony of the title! no-one’s life is perfect, but that’s what we strive for and when we’re younger we even imagine it is attainable, well I think I did. It is so difficult to realise that we can’t fix other people’s problems, no matter how much we want to and how hard we try. I have had my own mental health issues in the past, but I consider myself lucky to have had friends that encouraged me to seek counselling. The treatment I received was helpful and although I don’t have ongoing problems I am very conscious of my health and the need to take care of myself both physically and mentally.
These days, I feel that painting is my therapy and constant companion. It is my past, my present and my future. The British Associatation of Art Therapists write: “Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing.”
I am beginning to accept that I am not here to paint to please other people, but to express what is in me. To explore my feelings, emotions and reactions to the world through my work. I still have the wish to make other people feel happy and maybe these paintings will spark a conversation about mental health that will lead to someone getting help and support. Or maybe someone will realise that it’s ok to say that things aren’t perfect. Or someone may just be pleased that mental health is being talked about. I think having poor mental health is very real and difficult and we need to be more aware of it and open about it. My life isn’t perfect, people I love and care for are really struggling every day just to survive and for now all I can do is listen to them and throw paint onto a board!
Stay in the loop
If you’d like to know when a new blog post comes out and get updates on new work, exhibitions and art tips please sign up to my mailing list. I won’t bombard you with emails and I will never share your information.