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Poignant works of art show the reality of mental illness

Poignant works of art show the reality of mental illness

Updated 22nd November 2017
A new exhibition at London's Zebra One gallery focuses on the works of artists who have experienced mental health issues. This one, titled "Mind the foxes," is by former Ultravox and Duran Duran guitarist Gerry Laffy, who does not suffer from mental illness himself, but has worked with affected patients as an art teacher. "All of us have suffered from anxiety or depression at times. I have found that creative focus takes me out of the real world and I can lose myself for hour upon hour, especially when I do mixed media work," he said in an email interview. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"I have done a lot of dream-like images of late. My new collection is called 'Preparing for War.' I am sure a major war is just around the corner. My art portrays these thoughts." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"I also did highly decorated tyrants, such as Stalin. He, for example, is resplendent in his diamond-dusted finery. The regimented lines of sequins are torn and decimated representing (Stalin's) purges of his general staff, his paranoia and fear of any opposition led him to facing Hitler on the doorstep of the Kremlin." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
Artist Kim Noble has dissociative identity disorder. She has 21 different personalities, many of them are artists, each with their own style. This piece, 'My hands are Tied,' is by Ria," she said in an email interview. "Ria is a young personality who often paints graphic scenes of abuse. Her palette is very bright for the gloomy theme of abuse she paints." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"This is 'Training of the Purple Spirit' by Anon. Anon is an alter who likes to paint in the middle of the night," Noble said. "For me, the works have a spiritual feel about them, with a lot of movement. The paint is fresh and thick with limited amount of use with a pallet knife." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"I chose to present three iconic works by Andy Warhol in this exhibition," artist Nigel Stefani wrote in an email. "The reason being I have never worked with another artists pieces before, hence the challenge and responsibility of this, was something that appealed to me." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"I liked the idea of reinterpreting something so well known. These subjects are so saturated within the public's zeitgeist that it would be fascinating to attempt using one's own style and still, perhaps, produce something of worth." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"(Jean-Michel Basquiat) painted so many self portraits. This is my interpretation of one of his self-portraits imposed upon his face, as if he has become one of his paintings," Darren MacPherson wrote in an email. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"I do a lot of sketching that I then paint over, as it is a therapeutic process. I can never tell how they will turn out, but they are usually done in twos or threes. This is one of two." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
Lee du Ploy is both a painter and a psychologist. "My current interest or subject of specialty is prosopagnosia, a debilitating condition where facial awareness becomes an issue and people no longer recognize their loved ones and believe in some cases that they are a threat and try to kill them," he said. My recent paintings are of subjects with this condition, which has proved to be extremely helpful in calming the mind." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"My mental health has influenced my art, making an internal dialogue external," sculptor and painter George J. Harding said in an email. "My life experiences have gone into my work, and (art) has been a form of therapy for me over the years." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"(These works) are experimental pieces, exploring surface and depth and mixing different styles and ways of making together." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
The Proudfoot brothers are wary of outsiders and use art to communicate with the outside world. "We have both had mental health issues, but our art has probably been more influenced by our personal problems," they said in an email. "Sometimes we can get really down and don't paint, but we just do what we do regardless," they said in an email. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"We just paint and let the gallery decide what they want. We don't know what people like, we have never shown our work to anyone and we are very nervous," they added. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"My painting is titled 'se7en,' related to the film of the same name starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. The movie introduces a scene where Morgan Freeman reads Dante's "Inferno," which has been following me throughout my life. It's one of the reasons I chose D.A.N.T.E. as my artist name," artist Stifado Dante said in an email. " The painting reveals seven heads, representing the seven deadly sins, or seven people or inner demons I did not have a good history with. The full figure represents the hero battling these inner demons." Credit: Zebra One Gallery
The exhibition also features works by Warhol, Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali, who are all believed to have had issues with their mental health. Credit: Zebra One gallery
Credit: Zebra One Gallery
One of the Francis Bacon pieces on show at the exhibition. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
Part of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation, a British charity. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
"As more individuals share their experience of using art as therapy and how it can help with recovery, there will be a greater understanding of the value of arts programs in providing opportunities for healing, self-rediscovery, the formation of a new identity, and acceptance in the wider community," said exhibition curator Gabrielle Du Plooy. Credit: Zebra One Gallery
Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN
Kim Noble has 21 personalities. Her alter egos include Judy the teenage bulimic, Salamoe the devout Catholic, a little boy who speaks only Latin, and an elective mute.
Noble suffers from dissociative identity disorder, a condition in which separate personalities coexist within an individual, alternatively taking control. Many of Noble's identities are artists, each with their own style.
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"Having no formal art training, our work comes from within -- our experiences, our thoughts and feelings -- and it's our only way to communicate, relate and learn about one another," she said in an email interview.
Her works are part of a new exhibition at London's Zebra One gallery called "With Art in Mind," which focuses on contemporary artists who have experienced mental issues, or used their work to address them. It also features pieces by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon, who believed to have had mental health issues of their own.
"Three Studies for a Self-Sortrait" (1980) by Francis Bacon Credit: Zebra One Gallery
A percentage of each sale will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation, a British charitable organization that has been running an art program for a decade.

Art as an outlet

For many of the artists on show, art is a way to cope with and better understand their own conditions. For Noble, who has been in and out of hospitals since the age of 14 and has spent the last 24 years as an outpatient, painting has been therapeutic.
"Art gives me a feeling of unity. It has helped me to get in touch with a feeling of confusion, madness and the unknown. I suppose (it's) similar to getting in touch with your subconscious, yet our subconscious is a physical being, with its own personality ... Art has opened up a new world."
"My Hands are Tied" (2017) by Kim Noble Credit: Zebra One Gallery
For Stifado Dante, a British painter whose works are also on show at "With Art in Mind," art has become an outlet for pent up emotions.
"I developed mental health issues in my late teens, I was quite unstable and having difficulties with social activities. My life has always been chaotic and by painting my experiences, not only (can) others relate to my art, but I can pour out my negative emotions rather than bottling them up. Every time I paint, I'm able to feel free instead of trapped and frustrated," he said in an email.
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For Nigel Stefani, whose works in the show depict the likes of Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe, the power of art is liberating: "Art is, paradoxically, one of the simplest and most difficult forms of expression there is. I feel it works because it is one of the few aspects of life, if not the singular thing, that holds no boundaries - it is freeing in every sense of that word. And in a time of confusion or stress, that endless space that art will always be, can be real magic."

A form of healing

Not all the artists involved with the show have experienced mental illness: some have used their talent to help people facing their own battles. British artist Mason Storm, for example, said he used art therapy to help children "expunge inner demons" while working at a Romanian orphanage; figurative artist Darren MacPherson said he has "implemented art as a therapeutic tool to enable traumatized youths to try and deal with the difficulties that have experienced."
"Derivative Work of a Photograph by Tim Walker" (2017) by Mason Storm Credit: Zebra One Gallery
Painter and psychologist Lee du Ploy has started to incorporate his painting in the therapy in recent years, creating portraits of his patients.
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"I found that psychotherapy in itself is not always a panacea for resolution, so I looked for alternatives to the conventional treatment methods," he said in an email. "By painting the portrait, I look for emotional expressions and light body language changes. I see a clearer portrait, and sharing this with them creates a bond which I could not have previously managed by purely one-to-one psychotherapy."
Gabrielle Du Plooy, the exhibition's curator, hopes that the show will inspire even more people to explore the link between art and the mind.
"As more individuals share their experience of using art as therapy and how it can help with recovery," said curator Gabrielle Du Plooy, "there will be a greater understanding of the value of arts programs in providing opportunities for healing, self-rediscovery, the formation of a new identity, and acceptance in the wider community."
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