Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift

Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift
The Bay Park Paintings give a beautiful taste of home

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recovering the Artist II- Healing be Damned, Let's Make Some Art

The time has come once again when we honor the artists which are dearest to our hearts, closest to our mission at the Swift, and a vital part of our community. These are of course, our artists in recovery. The focus of the show is not on recovery, but on the art which emerges in  the space in between, in the place where words fail, cures stall, and pills and ills are background to the elusive process of creation. And why make art if healing isn't the goal?

Lu Larsen Celebration Acrylic on board 28"x40"
Because, as always, art is a human existential. It is as necessary as air, as predictable as love, loss, or death in our experience. Forget Maslowe's heirarchy of needs;
  • We have art from our earliest ancestors, in spite of struggling against ice ages and disease, and super predators like the Saber Tooth Tiger.
  • We have art from slaves, and from civil war prison camps.
  • We have art from Auschwitz, from people who were starving, and knew they were dying.

Art is not casual. To reduce it to "therapeutic art" on the basis of a diagnosed artist is naive. If we cannot acknowledge that images which emerge from any artist are aesthetically on a level playing field, then we rob those images of the true power and respect they deserve.

We do not look to athletes and say, "Oh. Your gifted sporting behavior must be very therapeutic." To fantasize that art by people in recovery is different; simply a cathartic struggle with no aesthetic value, is to blind ourselves to the possibility that all art is potentially equal when it comes to aesthetics.

Paolo Caravahlo- "Felines" Acrylic on Canvas 54"x54"
Recovering the Artist is not a show about how, occasionally, good artists struggle with mental illness. It is a show about how level the playing field becomes when we judge images by aesthetic merit, with no "touching back story." If you felt more connected with Van Gogh when you listen to Don McLean's song "Vincent", then you've missed the point. My experience of Van Gogh isn't a sad reminder of a troubled and isolated unrecognized genuis man.

Being in the presence of a Van Gogh is more like being suddenly punched in the face. The artist's story recedes in the presence of the genuine power of the work. Neil Armstrong ( who rocked, incidentally), couldn't have been more surprised at his first steps on the moon, than I was when I first saw the violence of the Van Gogh's sunflowers in person. Nothing can really prepare you for such an encounter.  I saw in his work, a painting achieved as if by meteoric impact, blasting down through the painted layers with unstoppable brute force...

Franco-"Depression" Acrylic on Canvas. 36"x 48"
If the art is often insanely beautiful, it isn't always easy going. Images like Franco's "Depression" hit hard and invite the viewer into a kind of personal hell, a suspended existence. But the counterpoint can be equally powerful. Lynn Marcoe's  "I Am Finally Home" dares to trace the vital awakening to recovery in almost uncomfortably strong detail. In it, we glimpse a novel idea. That her art isn't "about" healing. Her art is healing.

Lynn Marcoe, "I Am Finally Home" Acrylic on Canvas.
More than anything else, these works demonstrate the aesthetic strength of images cut loose from the constraints of their author, and their history, to offer themselves anew to our senses. Nothing further I can write will equal the experience of engaging the work with your own curiosity. Come to the show open eyed, and let it touch you.

Recovering the Artist II opens Friday, December 7th, 2012, from 5-8 pm. Please join us for refreshments, poetry readings and great art. 

Recovering the Artist is a partnership show with NAMI San Diego, The Creative Arts Consortium and The Expressive Arts Institute, in service of the community of recovering artists everywhere.

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