Doors Of Perception Probe Mental Health

Lucy Gellman PhotoWhen Matt Feiner sailed over the handlebars of his bike in a freak accident, the impact shattered his bones and his helmet, shaking him to the core. Regaining his mental health would take even longer than the physical recovery.

A deep blue pen — and later, collages, one for every day of the year — helped, sketching out his recuperation in real time.

Elsewhere in New Haven, Vito Bonanno was using his artistic practice to commit his anxieties, dreams, and loud, sometimes frenetic mindscapes to canvas. 

So were residents of New Haven’s Fellowship Place, using visual art to communicate and cope with how mental illness affected their lives every day.

First-time curating student Glen McDermott, founder of Red Rock Branding, and Grove Curator Elinor Slomba had an idea: Why not bring these artists and others together for Mental Health Awareness Month, working through a slew of social stigmas with hard-hitting, thoughtful, and timely visual art that the New Haven public could see?

That’s the idea behind “The Doors of Perception,” an exhibition curated by McDermott and Brian Monahan at The Grove on Chapel Street. The show runs until this Friday.

After completing Slomba’s new curating course earlier this year, McDermott was eager to bring the issue of mental health awareness to the fore, and found that the coworking space was the perfect place to try it out. When his client MINDMAP, a local organization committed to helping kids combat psychosis, offered to sponsor the show and then Fellowship Place’s Expressive Arts Coordinator Kyle Barreuther jumped in to assist, “Doors” began morphing into reality very quickly.

“I’d never been confronted with the idea of putting an art show together,” McDermott said on a recent afternoon, perched beside a huge painting of a human riding a snail in the Grove’s second-floor clubhouse. “There’s a sense of disruption about it, which is refreshing. One of my original starting thoughts was that artists see things differently — it’s their responsibility to lead as thought-changers in the community. People with mental disabilities often excel in their ability to ... observe differently, and express differently.”

“I think overall the process was really about taking what we were given and moving with that, creating a story and connections between pieces, and balancing that,” added Monahan. It was about “giving more opportunity for people to really try to see through other people’s eyes. Not just in the sense of ‘oh, this is what people suffering from mental illness or are involved in someone’s life who has a mental illness see,’ but more like, just by seeing artwork that you’re not trained to see — you’re inherently going to change and grow.”

“It’s outside of the visual calm that you’ll usually see in an art show,” Monahan said.

Dotting the light-soaked, warmly wood-paneled rooms and hallways on The Grove’s second floor, the pieces in “Doors” interact with not only each other, but with the people who work there every day. Feiner’s ink drawing on white paper and several of his New York Times collages mesh with a grouping of Dayana Padron’s, three fantasy-like, black-and-white drawings on lined paper that bleed through the sheets. Elsewhere on the floor, Cheshire-based artist Ken Grimes’ acrylic on masonite creations — many of which are created at Fellowship Place and address alien encounters and the strange and coincidental in the everyday —  talk to seven of Do Walker‘s small-scale works, blooms of bright color that fall into patterns the longer you look at them.

Richard Cummings’ single work suggests a dreamscape that we know intimately. There is a menacing spectral presence, to whom we are trying to explain something.

“It’s like ambient art, right?,” said Slomba on a recent Friday, surveying the space. “It’s art presented to people as they’re going about their business and their lives, and I love that point of intervention or point of contact.”

“This is a crossroads,” she added. “Placing art in the crossroads gives people more to talk about.”

“The Doors of Perception” runs at the Grove, 760 Chapel St., through this Friday.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on May 25, 2016  12:40pm

I don’t think the art is ‘ambient’.  It would be properly termed ‘outsider’.

posted by: Elinor Slomba on May 27, 2016  8:17am

Ambient visual art exists in the environment for people to encounter randomly or in the course of doing other things, rather than in a conscious intent to go look at an art object.  This is a general reference to the art that is shown in The Grove gallery, not just in this show.

To describe art made by people who are self-taught or outside the mainstream art world, I prefer the term ‘visionary art.’  I would prefer to see the participants in “Doors of Perception” as visionaries rather than outsiders.