ABOVE: Courtesy of Ruckus
︎ Healthy House, Louisville
Self Care & Artistic Process
At the center of Louisville Grows’ Healthy House is a narrow gallery space displaying Self Care & Artistic Process, an exhibition investigating the connection between two artists’ creative practices and the private practice of reflective growth. The unique space is compact and forces the viewers to move closely along the perimeter of the walls. Working seamlessly in tandem with the space, Corbin McGuire and Nina Kersey skillfully navigate themes surrounding the body, mental health, as well as how these topics manifest in art objects, spaces, and therapy. McGuire and Kersey offer intriguingly rendered and, at times, uncomfortable explorations of the body and home, which function as sites that simultaneously illuminate and obscure the private realm.
Often, the comfort of others eclipses any possibility for dialogue about mental health and self care. In Self Care & Artistic Process, visual art functions as an entry point and abates this uneasiness. There is a confrontational quality to the exhibition, as the narrow layout of the gallery pushes viewers close to the works and to those around them. Although we may not want to be face-to-face with issues like mental health and the body, we have no choice here. It is during this confrontation that we realize the weight of publicly displaying the private practice of self care, and how the display mirrors therapeutic techniques for coping.
Many psychologists believe that art therapy subtends silence with visual imagery, “since it helps [patients] to express, to see, and to accept their tumultuous internal states.”1 This is especially true in group settings, where social connections foster personal growth and a sense of belonging.2 In discussions of art therapy’s success in these cases, psychologist and author Judith A. Rubin states,
It seems that the nonverbal forms we treasure are so very valuable because they mirror, echo, and express the ineffable, unspeakable feelings we all carry within, from birth until death. And when we touch and shape materials in making art, we experience our impact on the world; indeed, we feel our very existence.3
McGuire and Kersey interweave art therapy and fine art and, in doing so, create work at the intersections of confrontation and reflection, individual and collective, and revealing and relatable.
Corbin McGuire’s work enacts the revelatory process of displaying personal meditations. McGuire’s Strawbs shows richly pigmented strawberries. They seem healthy, fresh, and full with bright reds and confident brushwork. The strawberries are a stark contrast from their white background. One of them is halved, showing detailed observations of the inside. The viewer may simultaneously interpret the single, halved strawberry as a privileged glimpse into the center of a normally guarded interior and also as a violent intrusion. This narrative works in accordance with references to the body in historical allegories that connect fruit and genitalia. Upon closer inspection, one finds that Strawbs has been folded in half, effectively hiding the interior of the paper from view and making the inside of the drawing barely visible. Here, one finds the same push and pull between revelation and violation in McGuire’s process. On the outside, we may see healthy strawberries; what we find beyond the surface is that something has been hidden. The viewer may then interpret the art object as protective body, within which thoughts and feelings lie concealed. This is common among many of McGuire’s works—some are folded in a similar manner while others have been flipped over and recycled. The hidden is revealed, and what is revealed becomes public. McGuire’s drawings cleverly allude to mental health as it surfaces, what it means to explore one’s health with others, and how, from its disclosure, the work may function as a place for healing.
Comparatively and perhaps more explicitly, Nina Kersey examines the body through the lens of mental health. In works such as Refresh and Chat Room, the viewer is initially drawn in by their rich surfaces; however, beyond the first glance, their unsettling nature comes as a surprise. Mirroring viewers in the tight gallery space, Kersey pushes bodies close to the edge of the paper, even cutting some off at the edge. This often results in tangled, confusing puzzles of appendages. Her compositions create an awkward tension, as if the bodies in the works are not accustomed to being seen. The figures’ awkward articulation is made hypervisible through bright pigmentation and hasty brushwork. Similarly, the bodies themselves are depicted with odd proportions: small heads, disproportionate shoulders, and the occasional four-fingered hand. Kersey’s compositions create an almost uninhabitable environment for these bodies. The viewer comes to believe that these figures are not meant to be publicly displayed but must navigate their visibility nonetheless. Attention to these bodies refracts bidirectionally into our own as we too attempt to fit into spaces, operate in the world, and reveal bits of ourselves to those around us.
The artists advocate for the value of art therapy within the context of fine art, essentially merging the two. At the same time, they are making visible the personal, which can then transpose into the collective. The message is clear: if we can confront individuals’ mental health collectively—creating spaces where we may reflect—the possibility of caring for ourselves becomes accessible. Art therapy discourse asserts this is, in fact, the most effective way to heal when words are not enough.4
Self Care & Artistic Process confronts individual struggles in the public realm. McGuire and Kersey create spaces where that confrontation can be a process of healing despite our anxieties. At times, the violent fissure from personal to public manifests as an intrusive tension, and, while one may try to shy away at first, this uncomfortable moment is ultimately productive and facilitates universal growth, reflection, and connection.
Self Care & Artistic Process is on display at Louisville Grows: Healthy House Art Gallery through February 21.
Louisville Grows: Healthy House is located at 1641 Portland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40203 and is open Fridays from 1-3pm.
- Louisville Grows: Healthy House
- 1. Rubin, Judith A. Introduction to Art Therapy: Sources and Resources. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis Group, 2010: 86
- 2. Ibid., 112
- 3. Ibid., 49
- 4. Ibid., 86.
Sara Olshansky, Guest Contributor to Ruckus
Chatroom, Nina Kersey. Courtesy of Healthy House.
Strawbs, Corbin McGuire. Courtesy of Healthy House.
Refresh, Nina Kersey. Courtesy of Healthy House.