'Creepy' creations help artist overcome depression

“What do you want to know about my creepy ladies?” Adena Griffith asks, standing in the front gallery space at Blockfort, where her solo show, “Behind the Eyes, Below the Throat,” is on exhibit through Aug. 27.

Indeed, the ceramic busts are of women, each accessorized with some creep-inducing element, whether it be snakes or mushroom-like plants or windows. The work is the result of nine months of intense studio time, coupled with intense introspection. Griffith called the pieces “self-portraits, in a way,” explaining that they're not intended to look like her but that they do represent the way she was feeling at particular moments.

This was nothing new for Griffith.

“I used to journal a lot when I was younger. A good chunk of my release was in writing,” she said. “In my art history classes, I found I really appreciated the iconography and symbolism, and I was seeing contemporary artists pushing together little things to make a story. So [I realized] I can make physical diary entries.”

The moments she was chronicling for “Behind the Eyes…” were difficult. She was coming off a period of artistic inactivity, even to the point of giving up making art. Coincidentally, she was trying to cope with what she would learn was depression in the wake of the birth of her fourth daughter.

“This work is about the depression and anxiety that was going on. … I knew something wasn't right [and I've] come to find out it was postpartum,” she said. “It wasn't harmful to anybody. It was self-loathing — not toward my children, just ‘worthless' thoughts. Everybody goes through it, times when they're thinking, ‘Why am I not good enough?'”

When she was asked to do the show at Blockfort, Griffith took it as a sign.

“I said, ‘OK, I'm gonna do it. This must be telling me I should keep making,'” Griffith said. “So then it became all about trying to figure out what I was going to say, how to talk about what I'm going through now, and hopefully I can make some kind of artwork through it.”

Griffith said the making is therapeutic. Indeed, one of the things that drew her to ceramics (a late-in-life artist, Griffith was a college student in her mid-20s studying zoology with no art background when she took her first ceramics class) was the therapeutic nature of working the clay with her hands. She added that viewers expressing similar experiences can be an additional benefit.

“It makes you feel not so all alone,” she said. “[To know others] feel and understand that pain, it helps you heal and grow.”

Perhaps her ladies aren't so creepy, after all.