Poignant works of art show the reality of mental illness

Updated 22nd November 2017
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Poignant works of art show the reality of mental illness
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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."
Painter and psychologist Lee du Ploy has started to incorporate his painting in the therapy in recent years, creating portraits of his patients.
"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."