Creativity and Mental Illness

Maureen MurdockArt and Creativity, Mental Illness7 Comments

Nest by Alexandra Petersen
J. Pepin Art Gallery

J. Pepin Art Gallery

After I posted my last blog about Bring Change 2 Mind’s mission to fight stigma and discrimination associated with mental illlness, I received an email from a friend about a unique art gallery in Portland, Oregon that shows the work of artists who are challenged with a mental illness.

J. Pepin Art Gallery features contemporary artists who are reframing the perception of mental illness.  Along with their works, each artist shares their creative journey and how having a mental illness plays a role.

Jennifer Pepin, owner of the gallery, has bipolar illness and has experienced the prejudice that exists against the mentally ill. An artist herself, Pepin decided to develop the gallery to give people an opportunity to share their work and stories to show the beauty that can come from having a brain disorder. Her hope is that her gallery will empower artists to tell their story in their unique way and that it will inspire people to look at mental health in a different way.

Resurfacing by J. Pepin

Resurfacing by J. Pepin

Being mentally ill does not have to be viewed as a negative thing.  Many famous people have been challenged over time with a mental illness: Michelangelo, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Shelley suffered from bipolar illness as well as Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollack, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolff, and Eugene O’Neill. More recently, Ted Turner, broadcast journalist, Jane Smiley, musicians Peter Gabriel and Axl Rose, and the actors Carrie Fisher, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears have been diagnosed with the illness.

J. Pepin Art Gallery shows artists who are successful talented people leading productive lives and enriching our world with their art.  Pepin writes, “We are dedicated to supporting like-minded artists and creating awareness to inspire change. Working together we can transform the landscape of mental health to be one of hope, dreams, and believing in a more accepting world.”

The gallery supports Bring Change 2 Mind with 10% of all sales its artwork. Check out this innovative gallery.

7 Comments on “Creativity and Mental Illness”

  1. Hi Maureen,
    thanks for such a quick response. Yes, it was Barbara Hort’s comment about Virginia Davis that helped me to discover your wonderful/necessary site. When I did a Google search for Virginia Davis, your site was one of the few results I was able to find. And I must say that it made my heart happy (thanks Barbara) to discover that I am not the only one to appreciate Virginia’s poetry.

    I just checked out her book from Central library (in Portland, Oregon). I hope other folks will honor her memory by reading her poems. Virginia Davis is a major American poet (IMO). Just because one is living with mental illness (think van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Diane Arbus), does not mean their art is something to be ignored. But there’s always the stigma. Thank you for bringing this truth into the light. I very much appreciate your insight and honesty.


  2. Great idea for this gallery to feature those with a mental illness–.I always enjoy reading everything you send me,Those with bipolar disorder seem to have such extraordinary creativity ..Keep up your good work for a good cause ,Maureen.


  3. As a resident of the Portland area, I was aware of Pepin’s gallery, although haven’t been there myself.  I have, however, long been aware of the high rate of biploar disorder in actors.  It seems to be a key ingredient in some of the finest work we see in that profession.  (Think of Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, for example, whose bipolar disorder nearly crippled her in her off-stage life.)

    For my part, Maureen, I offer you the following poem, written by a Portland woman named Virginia Davis, a diagnosed schizophrenic whose gift for poetry is, to my mind, simply stunning.

    With my admiration and my love,

    “Untitled” (from Anima Speaking)
    by Virginia Davis (1994)
    disease is by choice
    my mother had jungle
    and my father
    I went mad
    believing all
    my red corpuscles
    were explosive devices
    commanded by Mao
    and one false step
    would blow my mind
    so I moved
    with crazy
    the way
    the cripple
    and the child
    a prayer
    there were cures
    my mother washed
    her hands every
    two hours for a
    and they cut
    my father’s toe
    in mid-dance
    I was locked
    in a room
    with no handle
    on the door
    you may ask
    how I came
    to be here
    it wasn’t easy

    1. Virginia Davis was a very gifted poet (and friend). I recently discovered that she passed away in late October 2013. I’d not been in touch with her for awhile, so her death came as a total shock. There was no obituary. Very, very sad. Virginia was a wonderful person. And the fact that she could manage to write (and publish) her insightful poetry (despite chronic mental illness), speaks volumes about her character and strength. And I am deeply saddened that the literary community in Portland has not given her the respect she is due.

      I wrote a brief tribute to Virginia (on BlogSpot), but this only made me more sad. My blog is not read by thousands (or even hundreds) daily, so it’s not the kind of tribute Virginia deserves. Again, she was a loyal friend (to those she trusted), and a very gifted poet. I hope more people will read her work.

      ANIMA SPEAKING is available at Central library (in Portland). Virginia’s poems are as accomplished and touching as anything Sexton and Plath ever wrote (two other poets I admire a lot). This is why I am so saddened by her death. Her book was in the closed stacks (meaning nobody had checked it out in a long while). I could find no tribute or obit for Virginia Davis online. It’s almost as if she never existed on this earth. And I know better. I just wish more people could discover the wonder of her poems and person. She was a beautiful and rare human being. I’m glad at least one other person seems to understand what I mean. Thank you for a most insightful post.

      Dylan Mitchell

      P.S. Another (quite brief) example of Virginia’s talent and humanity:

      old poem

      I am on the far side
      of something I cannot name

      did I begin here
      was there a journey

      (from Anima Speaking)

      1. Dear Dylan,
        I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and thank you for letting us know about Virginia Davis. I hope others in Portland will read Virginia’s work now that you have told us that ANIMA SPEAKING is available at the Central library. Thank you for including her poem which is so powerful; I love her words: “I am on the far side of something I cannot name.” I think many of us can relate to her sentiment. I wonder if you read the comment below by Barbara Hort, also referring to Virginia’s work.

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