Making the Invisible Visible: Art and Mental Health

Third-year grad student Ashlee René Thompson has had a busy summer. After presenting her MA thesis exhibition last spring, Thompson submitted several paintings from that body of work to exhibitions, both in-person and online. A painting of hers was juried into the 55th Montgomery (Ala.) Art Guild Regions Bank Exhibition, which will open in September; another work was chosen for Special Recognition in the Open Exhibition at the Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery. And, she was named one of five July 2021 Artists of the Month by ArtJobs. Thompson and her work were also included in a feature Artsy Shark did on artists discussing art and mental health. Thompson, who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, wrote about her experiences working with her own mental health and how she incorporates it into her work:

“My current body of work walks the line of spontaneity and intentionality by portraying the chaos and complexity of life. This work is an interpretation of how I experience the world around me as well as how I explore my own anxious mind. The surfaces build similarly to stream of consciousness writing and a push-pull effect takes place that requires me to act and then react to the painted surface. My inspiration stems from interests in neuroscience, psychology, CT scans and MRIs, and personal life experiences. Artistic expression, abstraction, and exploration provide a means for investigation as well as introspection.

“After being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the age of twenty, I became fascinated by neurological processes and the connection of the mind and body. The study of science, as well as the rendering of science through art, has facilitated a greater understanding of the body as well as the overall environment. As an artist, I utilize my research by generating a conversation about an important topic in today’s culture: mental illness. Intuitively manipulating the surface of my canvas with wet and dry media allows me to understand visually how I am feeling mentally. I intend to make the invisible visible as mental illness does not have a universal symbol or visual representation. My goal is to connect with viewers in a way that spreads awareness, causes reflection, and creates a sense of community.”

For more information about the programs in the UA Department of Art and Art History, go to this page or contact the department at (205) 348-5967.