Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 15, 2013

Art of Recovery: A Human Journey

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Carolyn Trnka’s photograph, which hangs high on the wall at the far end of the InsideOut Gallery also is a statement that sums up what the current exhibit is about.

She’s been taking photos for years. Many people told her she needed to get her work out for public view, but social anxieties that have plagued her since she was 12 held her back.

This year, one of the 27-year-old’s three entries was a 16-by-20-inch photograph she took a few years ago of a lone red brick lying on a pile of gray rocks. The brick had the word “Unity” embossed on it.

“I thought it was ironic that someone had thrown it out there in the field,” she said.

The annual exhibit, the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health show, that opened last week at the gallery includes 110 works by 55 artists.

All of the artists are unified by their struggle with some type of seemingly insurmountable illness.

The purpose of the exhibit, which will run through Nov. 25, is to celebrate the healing power of art and resiliency of people, as well as decrease the stigma of mental illness through art and public education, said Deb Freed, who helped organize the annual event.

“If you look at mental health as a continuum, we’re all on it at some point in our lives, depending on age and circumstances,’’ said spokeswoman Deb Freed, who helped organize it. “The whole premise of this show is that we’re all in this together. It’s a human journey. We all suffer at some time in our lives. The beautiful thing about this show is you can’t tell who receive CMH services and others who have had other kinds of challenges because of severe care accidents that have resulted in significant impairments, alcohol and drug recovery, or other problems.”

More than 100 people attended the Nov. 6 opening at the gallery.

Participating artists come from all walks of life, including CMH clients.Their paintings, drawings and writing tell stories and offer glimpses into inner lives and show how thin the line can be between everyday life and various forms of common mental illnesses such as depression, grief, dissociation, obsessive compulsive disorders and debilitating fear of people and public places.

“I’m glad I entered it,” said Trnka, who spent some 40 minutes at the reception. She enjoyed the variety of art, seeing what everyone else created and and “just meeting people, even though I’m not big on crowds.”

Martha Ann Russell of Interlochen entered three abstract drawings, each with an artist statement:

“I wanted to share what I see when I look at myself in the mirror,” said the first placard under the drawing of a three-eyed face.

Art helps her heal, she said, because it allows her to show what words can’t convey.

“The exhibit was the first time I ever shared how my mind perceived the world,” she said. “I’ve had a really good response and when I went to the show I also realized how unique my work was.”

Connie McKinney, a professional local artist who works full time in Munson Medical Center’s laundry, entered a color charcoal pastel of Icarus, a Greek mythological figure who tried to escape the Island of Crete with wings of feathers and wax made by his father. He flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings, and fell into the sea where he drowned. She calls it a self portrait of herself at times in her life.

“For me, the exhibit is about honesty with myself and my own personal journey of recoveries, which are all related,” she said. “It’s also a wonderful way to share and communicate. It’s important to the community, too. because it helps break down the stigma of what it means to have a mental illness, alcoholism or abuse.”