Last week in Sydney, a bunch of local artists exhibited a show at Goodspace Gallery. The theme of the exhibition was “solace” – which is the act of seeking comfort during a time of great distress or sadness. In their own words, the aim was “to reaffirm that no one is alone when fighting mental illness” and they donated half the profits to beyondblue.

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We thought it was a pretty cool project, especially since Year13 recently did a survey of school students and found that 32% of respondents said they’d felt depressed about school. We decided to ask some of the artists about their work and their own struggles with mental illness.

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Lotte Smith

  1. Tell us about your work on show?

The work I created for the show is called ‘Candid Compassion’ and it depicts two people hugging on a fairly empty street at night. It’s about the times when I’ve felt unwell or out of control in my emotional health and having supportive physical contact has helped greatly in grounding me and allowing me to unburden myself from feelings of doubt or worthlessness. Even though there is hardly anyone else depicted in the street, it’s a public display of emotion and care. A lot of the time these sort of feelings are awkward and disarming and don’t always hit us in the private of our homes and I think it’s important to acknowledge that and normalise that.

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  1. Solace is about pushing support for mental illness amongst young people. What’s been your experience with mental illness?

I’ve had a fair amount of experience with it. [I’ve seen] friends and family dealing with anxiety, depression and bi-polar and they’ve educated me on their experiences and I’ve learned and am still learning how I can support them. Honestly, it can be overwhelming when people you love are dealing with such heavy demons, but after learning about how many people I know are living with mental illness it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together. Listening and reminding each other of that has helped me a lot.

Through high school, I had body dysmorphic disorder and would kind of punish myself by binge eating then purging because I thought I was a waste of space. Varying detrimental experiences with men, jumping from the need to be validated by them to feeling taken advantage of or dehumanised, didn’t help this state of mind. It’s taken a lot of practice and support from people close to me to remind myself I’m fine the way I am and that I’m not alone. It seems simple and obvious but depending on where a person’s mind is at, it’s important to let that become a mantra and hopefully to form sustainable emotional habits.

  1. We recently published a survey in which we asked Year 12 students to pick the emotions that best described how they felt about school. 66% of students said they were anxious and 32% said depressed. What are your thoughts on these statistics?

I feel that as a whole we are letting down our younger generations. I think the level of pressure we put on kids to learn or be or act a certain way is stifling. When I was going through the HSC there was a lack of information on the diversity and opportunity out there and I remember feeling dumb and lost and scared for the future.

The examples of career opportunities that are available (or deemed realistic) seemed really limited. There was also an idea that if your dreams or goals aren’t to have full-time work or follow one career path then you’re destined for failure or a life of uncertainty – it’s just silly.

Now I get the opportunity to work in schools teaching workshops and I know there are so many teachers who are trying to go above and beyond their roles to provide children with support that should already be in place for them. Maybe it’s due to funding or a lack of resources but I think there needs to be a push for alternative learning or options made available to kids and teens to let them know that if you aren’t good at writing essays that it doesn’t define your overall potential and worth.

  1. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a 16/17-year-old you?

It would be to learn myself, learn my body and listen to it. Learn what motivates me, inspires me, my sexuality, my strengths and weaknesses and not to be afraid or ashamed of them. When you practice that sort of dialogue with yourself, it helps centre your mind on doing the things that matter to you and minimises the risk of living a life based on other peoples’ standards. As long as you’re not hurting other people, nurture those hobbies and if someone tries to make you feel bad for learning or expressing yourself, stuff em.

Tulla Carson

  1. Tell us about your work on show?

My photography captures two individuals that I came across on a trip in India last year. India is a country that has so much poverty, yet I was always greeted with a smile and the locals were always beaming with gratitude for an exchange as little as a wave. They’re living with so little yet have such big hearts and it’s a constant reminder to be grateful for the life and journey we’re lucky enough to live.

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  1. How do you feel your work on show relates to the topic of mental health?

For me, immersing myself in other cultures is where I always find a great sense of solace. India was a place where I felt such an overload of gratitude, sense of self and feeling of content being the person I am and embracing the journey I’m on. Let the highs outweigh the lows.

  1. What’s the biggest misconception you’ve faced as a young artist?

People assume that we’re swanning around on this easy, smooth riding art and design wave, being creative every day and easing through our degrees. That we can only wish. Don’t get me wrong, some people may just be lucky enough to put in a little and get out a lot within this world, but most of us have to work hard to achieve the grades we want within university, stand out as a solo artist or designer, find a niche and make a living pursuing a creative career. But this shouldn’t be a deterrent to young creative dreamers out there that want to take this direction, we all do it with a bundle of passion and soul because we chose to delve down this path.

  1. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a 16/17-year-old you?

Pursue what you love, whether that be immersing yourself in other cultures and travelling the globe, going to university and studying to get into your desired career or whether it be taking on an apprenticeship. There’s no right or wrong, no formula, no solid direction on what you should do upon completing school, even though some may tell you otherwise. Pursue your passion, because it’s your passion and determination that will drive you to do amazing things.

Rory Simmons

  1. Tell us about your work on show?

I’m showing two recent oil on panel paintings. Both works reference the art of the late, great Dash Snow, an American artist who died of a heroin overdose in 2009 at the age of twenty-seven. In my mind, they illustrate a period of productive isolation and my state during that time. My work often deals with a level of self-inflective study, humour and cynicism. 

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  1. Solace is about pushing support for mental illness amongst young people. What’s been your experience with Mental Illness?

It’s something that I believe a great number of people at some point will have to come to terms with and learn from. And it’s a dance I’ve done myself many times.

  1. How do you feel your work on show relates to the topic of mental health?

In my work, I open a conversation about my own artistic modes of creation. Both paintings have a jagged sense of movement- they document a scene and reference a work that is imbued with violence. I am inadvertently questioning my own relationship with Dash and his work, which was often a documentation of his dark battle with despair and addiction.

  1. What’s the biggest misconception you’ve faced being a young artist?

As a young artist, it’s hard not to be arrogant that your vision for your work is at some level interesting. In retrospect, I had to make a lot of boring paintings and make a lot of mistakes before I even began to start an honest dialogue through my work. Like everything, it’s all a work in progress.

  1. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a 16/17-year-old you?

Keep on truckin’.