My series, Threadbare: An Exploration of Mental Illness, acts as a vehicle to open the dialogue of what living with mental illness means. Mental illness is a harsh reality for many—especially after the pandemic—but there is very little discussion about it. In fact, there is stigma associated with it, partly due to this lack of communication. My intention with this body of work is to visually represent what my various symptoms and hardships with mental illness look like through a series of self-portraits, in hopes that viewers can relate to my work and understand both myself and others like me.
My main obstacle while creating was determining how to visually represent the complexities of mental illness without being too literal. This led me to the use of symbolism and motifs. For each piece in my series, I crafted a unique way to paint it based on the concept it represents. Every color palette, texture, and every brushstroke has a deeper meaning behind it. I experimented with acrylic paint, charcoal, modeling paste, glazing medium, pouring medium, matte medium, and ink. I used these mediums to communicate complicated emotions. I made expressive linework with charcoal to convey fear and disorder, paint drips with pouring medium to represent sadness and uncertainty, muted hues and ink to portray emptiness and hopelessness, and bright hues and modeling paste to create the feeling of intensity. I used other motifs to further delve into the concepts of my work: red thread to symbolize cause/effect, fate/control, and subjugation; decaying flowers and insects to symbolize mortality; goldfish to symbolize happiness; scrambled brains and nerves to represent trauma and mental health.
For some paintings, the process was key to the message. In “A Portrait of Anxiety,” the background was created using a pendulum. The uncertain nature of a paint pendulum exemplified fear of the unknown and lack of control over my surroundings. In “The Flame of Self Sabotage” and “Sensing the Destruction of the Interpersonal,” I wanted to depict the chaos that comes with the symptoms of self sabotage and unstable interpersonal relationships, so I nearly destroyed the canvases by stabbing and slashing them with knives. I damaged the canvases to represent how I have a hand in my own destruction and the destruction of my interpersonal relationships. I am both the creator and the destroyer, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fate and control, identity, and the pursuit of understanding are all themes that I explore in my series. I considered the display of my series as an art piece itself. Using a motif of the series—red thread connected to hands—I united all of my work both figuratively and literally. I was inspired by Cat’s Cradle, a centuries-old string game that involves weaving string through the hands and creating complex figures. These complex figures are, in essence, what humanity is: so much complication. It is a tangled web of meanings and explanations. The red thread symbolizes the connection between each of my symptoms and the complex intricacies of mental illness. It represents my journey to self-discovery and my search to find the meaning in my own “tangled strings.”