y story begins by having disabilities stemming from a closed head injury when I was hit by a car in my teens. A traumatic brain injury resulted in a lifetime of cognitive and emotional challenges from temporal lobe epilepsy and bipolar disorder. Underlying these disabilities, were even more challenges, created by pervasive societal views of psychiatric diagnoses: stigma, prejudice, shame, and discrimination.
My doctoral dissertation in Disability Studies addresses these emotional challenges. It is entitled "Beyond Words: Discovering the Bipolar Impaired Self through Visual Imagery." My art encapsulates my work as a disability artist and independent researcher in the fields of disability studies, art, psychology, and my own lived experience with the diagnoses of bipolar disorder, seizure disorder, ADHD, and finally, a term I have coined in my dissertation, the Impaired Self--the internalized end result of society's harsh judgment and ill-treatment toward those living with mental illness. The ultimate paradox? Society can be seen as needing as much if not more intervention than the person it holds so bitterly in its crosshairs.
Associated with my diagnosis is what appears to be the natural urge to create art from the inside out--to make visible the hidden feelings, attitudes and functioning of everyday life with this illness. Without proper medication, one's personality can fluctuate spontaneously and substantially, creating havoc and affecting not only the person with bipolar disorder but for those around him/her/them. Thus, the subject matter and treatment of my art are largely looming and dark.
I have two purposes for creating art. The first purpose is to create art in order to externalize, process and maintain control over my feelings. I have a shadowy story within me. A vague narrative lying dormant beneath the trap door of my consciousness. The most effective way to investigate my internal feelings and reactions to this illness is the basis of my own art-based research. I use my personal and impassioned artwork to bring me closer to finding out about my sense of self, my emotions, thoughts, and feelings associated with having the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
The second purpose is to educate others and attempt to cultivate empathy, regarding the difficult challenges we face and must endure, due to our mental illness.
It has taken me a number of years to perfect my technique and refine my methods of creating my images. Like playing a guitar with musical notes and achieving pinpoint accuracy of finger placements, so too can I anticipate what graphic editing decisions can enhance an image and which can detract from it. It can take me anywhere between hours, days or weeks to complete a piece of art. Most often, my art goes through dozens of major and minor transformations.
The result is an image that often transcends the original idea while taking on a life of its own. Interestingly enough, when I first started making my images, I had no real preconception of how I would put them together. All I knew was, I had an overwhelming urge to make pictures. I remember distinctly sitting at my laptop computer, melding elements together with surgical precision, and "working into them" with various visual editing programs. As I continued along, I learned the programs and developed my own techniques until I came up with my own visual vocabulary and aesthetic.