Group exhibition finds artists making work that depicts their mental illnesses

A few years back, Amanda Kisielewski was in a bad place. Anxiety and depression were proving a heavy weight to bear, so much so she had stopped making art and, for the most part, stopped leaving her house.

Two things began to pull her from the depths. The first was putting brush to palette and canvas.

“I hadn't made any art at all for five years. But when I started painting…,” Kisielewski said, her voice trailing off before ending the sentence with a long, slow exhale.

The second was sharing her work on social media and finding a community, one that affirmed both her work and her worth.

“I was painting my anxiety and I was getting really good feedback from other artists,” Kisielewski said. “At first I was pretty ashamed, because my anxiety and depression were so bad, but as I've been putting myself out there and had people connect with me, it's gotten better. I've found a community. I've found a family, people who understand. I don't feel alone anymore.”

So Kisielewski looked to that same community to provide a voice for anyone whose day-to-day life includes mental illness, in the hopes that making art that shares their personal struggles will help them and others also know that they are not alone.

Kisielewski is curating “Outsiders,” a group exhibition for which a specifically selected collection of artists is making work that depicts their struggle with a variety of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, self-loathing, paranoia and dissociative identity disorder.

“It's very representative,” Kisielewski said.

She hopes people who live with mental illness of any kind will find community in artists sharing their struggles in their work. She also hopes those who do not endure these conditions will “connect with it, to feel it, for even half a second.”

The exhibition will open with a reception Friday, March 9, at the Vanderelli Room, where it will be on view through April 15. Participating artists include Marcus Blackwell, Adrian Sibley, Felicia DeRosa, Derek Stewart, Laura Jane, Meira Preisler, Daidria Ecklels and Justin Frehs.

“I'm so proud of these artists,” Kisielewski said. “It's a very strange thing I'm asking them to do, a very intimate, personal, scary thing to do, to ask, ‘Would you be willing to put that on display for everyone to look at?'”