Feature

Kenny McKay, whose teeth were removed in a mental institution as "preventive dental care," draws and paints figures with prominent teeth. Paris-born Frances "Lady Shalimar" Montague, who had an early career in the performing arts in Europe, paints elaborate ballet, theater and circus costumes embellished with straight pins, glitter and sequins.

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ETHEL JARET
"Untitled"
Watercolor and marker on paper

Their art is among the more than 60 paintings and drawings created by people with serious mental illnesses, ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, that are being displayed on APA's sixth floor through May 2001.

Sponsored by APA and Div. 10 (Psychology and the Arts), the exhibit will offer psychologists an opportunity to see that people who are mentally ill often find "their inner wholeness" by painting and drawing, says Tobi Zausner, PhD, a member of Div. 10.

"Mental illness, which can be considered a handicap in some areas, may become a focusing tool in the creative process," says Zausner. "This is a visually beautiful exhibit with the capacity for inspiration and an opportunity to see the workings of the human mind."

APA and Div. 10 will host a viewing of the artwork during an open house at APA headquarters, Saturday, Aug. 5 from 4 to 8 p.m., during APA's 2000 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. As a prelude to the viewing, APA will screen the documentary, "Not Like in the Movies: A Portrait of Six Mentally Ill Artists at Work," Friday, Aug. 4, at 4 p.m. The film depicts the lives of six of the artists featured in the show.

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FRANCES MONTAGUE
"Moscow Circus"
Marker, crayon and glitter on paper

A perfect medium

The artwork is on loan to APA for one year from the New York-based nonprofit organization Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI). Directed by its founder, Michael Jon Spencer, HAI offers a chance for people with mental illness to attend concerts, dance and theater performances and sports events and to participate in hands-on visual art workshops. Funding for HAI's programs for the mentally ill is provided by New York City's Department of Mental Health. Participants come from day-treatment programs for serious mental illnesses or live in group residences in the community.

Fifteen participants contributed to the APA display. Most were born in the 1920s and 1930s, and several lived in mental institutions for more than 20 years before they moved into the community and joined the HAI program. Given the opportunity to paint and draw, these particular participants quickly revealed a talent for and devotion to creating art, says Elizabeth Marks, the HAI workshop program director and curator.

"These artists are the superstars of our program," says Marks. "They are a unique group, and their work really has a significant place in the genre of outsider art"--an increasing popular style that is created by untrained artisans, including folk artists and mentally ill artists.

"Outsider art encompasses those who listen to their inner voice to the exclusion and, sometimes, to the contradiction of mainstream trends," she says.

Several of the featured artists have earned international recognition for their skill. Montague has a painting in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Folk Art, two others have art in the London Outsider Archive and many others have sold their work to private collectors. A painting of a woman's face by HAI artist Jennie Maruki appeared on the cover of the October 1998 issue of American Psychologist, and another HAI painting or drawing will adorn the cover of the July issue of the journal.

APA headquarters is an ideal place to showcase and support this unique work, says Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, APA's Chief Executive Officer, who is a long-time promoter of the link between psychology and art.

"In addition to its artistic merit, the new exhibit will express the values and commitment of APA to understanding and helping people with serious mental illness," says Fowler.

Adds Thomas Ettinger, PhD, editor of Div. 10's Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts: "This exhibit offers psychologists the rare opportunity to behold psychopathology from a fresh perspective, one that transcends the habitual focus on diagnosis and dysfunction. These gifted artists have transformed misfortune and conflict into evocative cultural artifacts, imbuing their lives with meaning and purpose."

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KENNY MCKAY
"Birds with a cup of coffee"
Watercolor, marker and crayon on paper

Unique voices

While the artists in the show have HAI in common, each brings a distinct style to his or her work -- reflecting different interests, senses of humor, cultural backgrounds or experiences with mental illness, says Marks.

"These artists are or were incredibly spontaneous--most worked without sketches or a plan, they just put their pencil or brush to a page and produced beautiful pieces of work," Marks says. "Each of the artists speaks with a unique voice. Anyone who looks with an open mind can be touched by it."

The HAI exhibit is APA's fourth art display. From 1992 until February 1998, APA sponsored two consecutive exhibits of paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings by APA members. From February 1998 through April, APA displayed a collection of Native American artwork titled "Healing Art."

None of the artwork on display at the HAI exhibit is for sale.

Further Reading

Tobi Zausner will discuss and show other examples of art created by people with mental and physical illnesses in the invited address, "Wholeness and perfection: special challenges, art and creativity," on Friday, Aug. 4, at 3 p.m. during APA's 2000 Annual Convention. In addition, she will lecture on eminent artists with disabilities at the National Gallery of Art Saturday, Aug. 4, at 10 a.m. For more information on the lecture tour, contact Sarah Jordan.