“Do you suffer from mental illness, mate?”
Call me dictatorial for scrutinising responses to my large drawings, but the most common reaction of “how many pens do you get through?” doesn’t bother me one bit, to argue against that. It’s just one response in particular I find troubling: “Do you/have you suffered from mental illness, mate?”
Maybe, to cut a tirade short, it is my own fault. Maybe the nature of my work makes it look as if it’s only about my ‘screwed up little mind’ (although thanks to those who say it depicts how they feel about the world, helping me stand my ground here). Maybe, paradoxically, this is merely an argument with myself, that my paranoia has conjured up a phantom from a collaged-Other, and I’ve just massively proven the response in question to be utterly true?
However, I would say it is more of convenient utterance; that it is convenient to locate things such as my artwork as originating from entirely within the individual, in a time of hyper-individualist dogma, where to consider the porous nature between what’s behind one’s flesh and blood is hazardous to the maintenance of a belief in a concealed lucrative, original product, that is “I”. Mental illness may be a rising subject of concern on our contemporary agenda, but we still see it largely as lots of people possessing it rather than lots of people sharing it.
When the desire to simply daub atomized screams onto canvas felt insufficient to express how I really felt (nor was I particularly talented at doing this either), I needed to somehow express the wider landscape which I always felt set the co-ordinates for for misery and fear to foster themselves inside me. It felt useless to focus entirely on myself, as much as it felt useless to draw a world lacking my own injuries staining its streets. My work is an attempt at a cognitive mapping of the emotional mindfield of the 21st century world.
Mental illness is a very difficult diagnosis to pin down. I can often agree with the claim that all humans are mentally ill – after all isn’t consciousness (or the belief we have it?) a form of mental illness? But arguing this when there is clearly an epidemic of people finding their psychological state in turmoil, dysfunctional, manic, paranoid, thinking suicidal thoughts makes a universal human nature-case out of something specific to our historical period and our society; at worst such a speculation is a philosophical game that becomes totally self-serving and pointless. The more reactionary response that people are faking it because it’s become ‘fashionable to be depressed these days’ deserves to utterly ignored here.
On the grounds of the psychological state in turmoil mentioned above, it’s evident to anyone who’s ever read my blog, that I have indeed suffered (and suffer) from mental illness (for some reason it seems to spike – on my blog – around the time of seasonal festivities, and bank holidays, which is annoying as I wish these things didn’t have any impact on me whatsoever). But it often seems like giving people the nod to your own mental illness prevents them from seeing the wider map of distress within which you originally place the words saying “i am mentally ill”.
My drawings are the closest thing I’ve done to interpret the world as it seems to me. Of course they’re an illustration of my subjective experience. But that experience has to come from somewhere, it isn’t born in me. In this case, everything has to be subjective to some extent, even the most fact-based accounts given of current affairs. Yet the “are you mentally ill, mate?” response to my work seems to completely bypass this. But there again, I am putting my work into the arena, titled as ‘by John Ledger”, an original piece made completely by John Ledge; So perhaps there’s as much fault with the artist, or in trying to be viewed as being one…