Navigating the mindscapes.

I just submitted a few pieces to an open call for artists who have lived with mental illness. Having had some experience in that area, I felt compelled to contribute. Never mind that I saw the call on Monday and were due Saturday. I pulled it together just in time.The project is called Mindscapes New Brunswick, and is a yearly exhibit. This year it will be in Bathurst, NB. A place I’ve never been but it sure looks pretty.

I originally had aspirations of making something specifically for it, but when I started going through my old work, I realized I had a number of suitable candidates. More than suitable, even, because they dealt directly with my mental health problems/solutions.

This submission was a surprisingly engaging process. I was combing through my artwork for pieces that spoke to my mental ecosystem. How often do we organize our work by concept? It was enlightening.

It has made me want to categorize ALL of my work by idea. In this world where specialization seems to be the way to make a living, I feel constant pressure to identify my “area of interest”. But there are so many, and it hurts me where my tears grow when I think of giving up some interests for the sake of only one.

However, it might be nice to see what patterns have developed on their own. What sort of direction I am heading with certain topics. That kind of thing. Constructive categorization. I believe the study of oneself is integral to mental health.

I have long been thinking about making a private blog to store ideas. I would use a blog mainly for the ease of cross-referencing through categories and tags. My problem with the oodles of notebooks and ideas I have spilling out around the house is that I never go back to look at them. But the odd time that I do, I realize how many different directions each one could be taken. My ideas need to be under multiple headings at once, and most of all they need a search function.

Can you imagine a collective of everyone’s ideas in the whole world? Where you could be matched with people with similar ideas and borrow ideas as you pleased? What an innovative world that would be.

But I digress.

As part of the submission I wrote an artist statement that explained my history of mental illness and what part art plays in my life. It was interesting to take stock of how far I’ve come. It made me feel proud and sure of myself.

I’m feeling hesitation about putting the statement in this post. It seems overly personal, unprofessional. Somehow I feel it might make potential viewers think twice. But that just betrays how brainwashed I have been by society’s insistence that mental illness be hushed. That is what this exhibit is all about, open discussion on a difficult topic. And to be honest, if my humble trials and subsequent victories are enough to scare you away, adieu.

So here it is, my past, followed by the pieces I’ve submitted.

“For as long as I could remember, I hadn’t been capable of true involvement in my own life. It didn’t feel real, and so apathy was ever-present. This culminated in a deep paralyzing depression during my teenage years.
When I sought help, the offers I received were of antidepressants, to fix what I had considered a symptom. My body did not jive well with these drugs and I ended up trying many different kinds. Eventually one did seem to help. Unfortunately after taking it for a long time, I felt trapped by the emotionless state it imbued.
I decided I wanted to stop. Even with slow weaning I suffered withdrawals, namely the debilitating “brain zaps”, which are exactly what they sound like. Every day I removed one more tiny bead from the capsule, and at long last severed myself from this demanding drug.
It was an awakening. Having been numbed for so long, I had one of the more mentally tumultuous periods of my life. I wrote, I thought, I created art in swarms. One morning while staring at my ceiling fan, I came to a life-changing realization. In order to feel real, you have to push yourself into the world. Before that moment I had only tried to let the outside in. It has to be a two-way valve.
I believe art to be the act of putting your insides out. I try to engage myself and my viewer as much as possible by reaching for more challenging projects. There are no failures when your goal is to learn, and when I do have particular success I feel great pride in my ability to connect to the world outside.
These days I am learning to be a textile designer and mixed media artist at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. I have shown work at my college and in various group shows and art auctions, and have recently completed several commissions. I was the winner of the 2010 NBCCD Scholarship for highest GPA, and this year won the Nel Oudeman’s Scholarship for a promising art student. I am feeling mentally sound and most permanently curious.”

Piece #1 : 


9.5″ x 12.5″ x 1.5″ (including frame). Mixed media sculpture pressed between glass. Includes marbles, beads, plastic canvas, acrylic gel, tubing, paper, plastic wrap, and glue. 2011.

This piece was created to soften the memory of an incident that happened several years ago. I had stomach problems from anxiety and needed a gastroscope. I was given something so that I wouldn’t remember the procedure, but it didn’t entirely work. I was aware but could not move or remember what was being done to me. It was a disturbing memory but by creating this piece I have taken away some of its impact.

Piece #2:


Bit by bit

12″ x 25″ (including frame). Collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2008.

This is what I would consider my first true artwork. Around the time I found a helpful antidepressant, I started my first art class in high school. This is a self-portrait I created, demonstrating my feeling of hope.  The blue circle in my abdomen references a meditation technique I found quite useful for anxiety and insomnia.

Piece #3:

If Your Friends

12″ x 13.5″ (including mat). Letterform collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2010.

This piece is a good-humoured take on the act of following suit. For our own well-being we must all go our own way.

Piece #4:

(In book form)

The Point

16” x 16”. Expandable soft book made of digitally printed cotton, fibrefill, polyester, embroidery floss, and metal snaps. 2012.

I believe the point of life is curiosity, creativity, and the forming of connections. In this piece I pay homage to all three. Each segment shows a different area of science. Counter-clockwise from the top we have quantum physics, chemistry, crystallography, genetics, biology, botany, neuroscience, and astrology. I have digitally constructed the pieces from scanned images of my pen drawings and acrylic paintings, as well as pages from a vintage science encyclopedia.

(I will go into more detail about this piece in another post)

Well that’s that. Quite a rewarding trip down memory lane. Wish me luck!

12 thoughts on “Navigating the mindscapes.

  1. Thank you for sharing your ‘journey’ – you are now reaping the ‘rewards’ for your perseverance! Congratulations on your achievements, both personal and artistic … =D

  2. Your work is beautiful and it makes me think. also you written posts remind me of some of the times of my own youth. I don’t know how old you are, but when I read your posts i think how lucky we both are to have realized the importance of artistic expression.

    1. Thank you so much, I love your work too. SO impressed by how dedicated you seem to be. I strive to commit more and more of my time to making, no more putting off the things I enjoy. You inspire me in that. I am not very old, only 23. So glad to have found art when I did. I wish I could show everyone how powerful it can be. How old were you when you began to create things?

      1. Well it’s funny because I started silkscreen printing in High school cutting chemistry to go to graphic arts, it was called vocational school back in the 70’s and didn’t have a very good reputation with parents and guidance counselors etc. And while I made my living as a graphic artist, I never considered myself to be an artist and neither did family or friends. But I have been creating my whole life and started a silkscreen studio for inner city and homeless youth in NYC, worked on many famous Broadway shows (printing for costumes) and even made elephant blankets for Barnum and Bailey Circus. I guess it was about 2 years ago when I started my blog that I began to do the kind of work I really wanted to. I’ve always thought of myself as a craftsperson, but only very recently and occasionally an artist. I’m 54. I saw the call for artists that you mentioned and I thought about entering, but I haven’t entered anything yet and nothing really seems finished enough anyway.I believe that making art or creating has a lot of healing power. For me it has always been fiber art. I did a bit of research and wrote a paper about it. I think it is an interesting subject and if I wasn’t putting 3 kids through college right now I would probably go back and get a masters in art therapy. there will be time for that later I think. Thank you for your post, i am sure this is way more than you wanted to hear about me lol!

    2. What an incredible life you’ve been having! And yes I did want to know that much! Thank you for sharing. You are most certainly an artist, I hope you realize that now :) It had never occurred to me that graphic design would ever have had a bad reputation, but I suppose it stands to reason. Silliness, I think. Graphic designers certainly get respect these days, at least in the circles I run in. I’m glad you went for it even though if it was against the tide. Art is such a healer. What a beautiful idea to teach screenprinting to those in need. Getting such professional results would surely be an encouragement. Glad to hear you are thinking about continuing education. It should never stop. Just don’t put it on the back burner TOO long….

  3. I’m reminded of an old folk tune that goes something like…”You got to walk that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yourself. Oh, nobody else can walk it for you. You got to walk it by yourself”. It seems that the solution for many of life’s problems must come from within the individual. This can be extremely frustrating and painful for loved ones and friends. Mental health problems are taking such a huge toll on our society. I take solace in the fact that the these things are being brought into the open. Still, it seems that there is such a long way to go. Allison, I’m so thankful for you, your creativity and your desire to “push yourself into the world”. Keep on keeping on the road to discovery and self fulfillment. As far as understanding goes, I’m not sure that is available to us completely on this side. Our minds are just too limiting, but, that does not mean we cannot attempt to understand. And when that doesn’t work, there are always marshmallows and chocolate.

    1. Very true. Sometimes it must seem like an ill loved one does not want to get better. I’m sure that would be painful to live with. Once you get into negative circling thoughts it can be hard to lift yourself out of it. But thankfully it is doable, and I believe that for everyone.
      I often wonder what the solution is, to save society from our own minds, but I always come up empty. Perhaps meditation and thought training at an early age, I’ve heard that it can be effective for behaviour at school. Maybe it is transferable.
      Thanks Stephen, I am so thankful for you as well. It is such a joy to be welcomed into such a kind and supportive family.
      And don’t worry, I’ve bought up stocks in chocolate and marshmallows ;)

  4. I especially love the 4th piece. It’s the shapes and colours on it, I think. Also, it’s really good to hear other people’s experiences of depression, anxiety and pushing out the other side. I’m still on the antidepressants (although I’m trying to reduce them) but I did have therapy as well, and rediscovered how much I love making things – it’s also a good indicator for me. If I have the concentration span to make then I am OK!

    1. Thank you, the 4th piece was one of my favourite to make, so many little steps, I love that. I find things always come out so well when you enjoy the process. Thank you for sharing your experience. Antidepressants are not all bad, sometimes they can get us through tough times, as long as we don’t look at them like a permanent solution. I salute you for seeking help through therapy. That was something I never really did but would probably have benefited from. But you are right, making is one of the best forms of therapy. That and journalling. I always feel my best when I am able to find time to write a page of hopes/complaints/nonsense in the morning. Good luck, and I hope you continue to feel a-okay.

  5. Your perspective on the world is very thought provoking. I find it painful and enlightening to revisit troubling times from your perspective. You’ve made an unbreakable connection with me and although I may not always understand you I will always try:)

    1. Hopefully not too painful. I love you, you know. You have always been my greatest source of support. Everything is okay now. It’s hard to appreciate spring if you have never lived the winter.


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