As regular readers know, my partner Sara and I are home for several months from our disaster-responding, international-aid-working trek across a crazy planet. Now, as I “memoir” about mental health from Kentucky, a place decidedly less exotic than Hanoi or post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, I’m realizing that creative living on the sane side of the psychotic divide, where I’ve hung out for the past 10 years or so, has only meant less manic making of art, but art-making nonetheless.
Since, my bipolar symptoms have been managed by medication, my art has, in fact, changed, becoming less dark and dour, more optimistic and uplifting–more playful and experimental than desperate and driven.
It seems, having examined my artistic output before and since recovery, I don’t have to be manic to make art; I only have to be child-like and receptive, humble and bent-kneed toward the creative process.
It’s in this spirit of assuming a kneeling posture toward art, that, today, I bring you 3 pieces made, in recent years, by the medicated me.
Hope you enjoy—
This first mixed media assemblage, though not one of my personal favorites, uses a number of techniques I’ve explored in recent years, including collage and bead-making with polymer clay.
This piece in particular is more about experimentation than something overtly conceptual. It’s about playing with text and texture, word and image.
Though it’s difficult to see in the following photo, I edged the perimeter of this next assemblage with a quote by the poet Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
In some ways, this piece, like the last, explores a relationship between the Rumi text and a texture that is layered and dimensional. The gold squares in particular were an effort to remember a favorite antique sofa that was damaged beyond repair and had to be discarded. I salvaged what I could, including upholstery that I decoupaged to cardboard and cut into 9 small pieces that add depth and variation to the smooth surfaces in the rest of the piece.
The final mixed media collage uses a technique I explored in the first. When I was still desperately poor but largely recovered from the worst of my illness, I experimented with new ways to use tempera paint, since it was so inexpensive. I couldn’t afford to use the more costly acrylic paint to create texture, so I began applying large amounts of tempera to paper and blowing it with a hair dryer to mix and layer color. Because tempera paint is easy to damage and difficult to preserve, I applied a high gloss polyurethane to increase its durability and create a more reflective surface.
I also experimented in this piece with a collage technique that involved weaving strips of paper. Here text from The Aeneid is woven with a face from a fashion magazine. I thought the resulting checkerboard of Latin text and a red-headed Dido especially interesting.
So, although Sara and I are not gallivanting the globe over the next couple of months, I’m doing a kind of time travel instead–revisiting the disaster of my own bipolar past. Writing a memoir about my ongoing recovery from mental illness means taking inventory of art I created before and since my symptoms have been managed and challenging the myth that a non manic me can’t create as well as the psychotic self I met in psychiatric hospitals across the country.
Rather than writing about the event horizon I encountered in Haiti, I now explore the outback of my own psyche, a landscape that straddles the psychotic divide.