Art Show

Express Your Stress: Creations in Quarantine

The Niagara Falls Mental Health Fair Committee is proud to showcase the “Express Your Stress” art show across social media. The original art pieces represent the feelings and mindset experienced during COVID-19 isolation. The art show will display the pieces through the following art mediums: photography, visual art and film. The online art show will be displayed via Instagram & Facebook for 10 weeks with the final installation being showcase at the second week of November.

Featured Artistic Mediums
  • Photography
  • Visual Arts
  • Film
  • Multimedia

Featured Artists

Rea Kelly

ARTIST BIO: Rea Kelly

Rea Kelly is a Niagara Falls born practising artist whose work is based in St. Catharines. She is currently attending Brock University’s Studio Art program as a fourth-year student. Rea works as an art instructor at the Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Children’s Museum teaching programs to young children and teens, as well as at the Niagara Artists Centre as curatorial assistant.

Outside of her degree and work, Rea is pursuing her own personal projects and artwork that has been shown in exhibitions around downtown St. Catharines. In 2019, Rea was nominated for a Saint Catharines Art Award in the Emerging Artist Category and was co-president of the Brock Art Collective from 2019-2020. Much of her work deals with the sense of self and identity, memory, as well as the psychological, which has been influenced by her own experience with mental illness within herself and others. She likes to deal with these themes through the figure, portraiture, and architecture and works primarily within drawing and painting. Rea plans to continue to establish herself as an artist and hopes to carry her artistic career into the future.

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

Mental health, just like physical health, is a part of our well-being and lived experience. We need to look after to live productive and fulfilling lives. Mental health becomes tricky as it is a faucet of our lives we cannot see and a part of health we may have trouble empathizing with in others. It is not as structured as physical health at times. For example, the shared experience two people might have in breaking an arm would likely be a lot more similar than the shared experience of grief or loss.

Rea says, “The topic surrounding mental health became a prominent issue in my life in the form of mental illness and depression. Even years after an initial episode I still struggle to understand and accept the way depression plays a part in my life. Although I understand I need medication and therapy for a baseline of mental well-being, it is hardest to accept mental illness within those closest to me, particularly after feeling the grief of a suicide. While mental health and mental illness are separate, they are intertwining concepts and lived experiences that have made their way into the processes and themes of my art making.”

ON HER ARTWORK: 5 PIECES

1. Corbet (Why am I an insomniac when I have all this time to sleep?): Conte, charcoal, and graphite on paper 25.5” x 19.5” 2020

2. Klimt (I don’t know what to do with myself): Conte, charcoal, and graphite on paper 19.5” x 25.5” 2020

3. Wood (On each other’s nerves): Conte, charcoal, and graphite paper 22” x 28” 2020

4. Van Gogh (When will this end): Conte, charcoal, and graphite on paper 19.5” x 25.5” 2020

5. Leyster (My back hurts from sitting like this all day): Conte, charcoal, and graphite on paper 25.5” x 19.5” 2020

In these 5 drawings, Rea is looking at historically “familiar faces” in the context of the contemporary COVID-19 pandemic. Famous portraits from the canon of art history have the

parts of their face removed that would have been covered by a face mask. Says Rea, “I am exploring how not seeing the entirety of a face alters the way we see someone, even those we may already know. Akin to much of my other portrait work, I am diving into the uncanny, the awkward (awkward facial features and body proportions), and the macabre.”

Rea continues, “Many of these themes have played a part in the experience of living through a global pandemic. Simply someone’s face can tell a complicated story. I want these five portraits, taken into a modern context, to relay the stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness this pandemic has brought about, even if half of the face can’t be seen. COVID-19 has altered the experience of our daily lives and our routines which has been reflected in the change of these classic paintings. The portrayal of these faces and bodies are uncomfortable, as a pandemic not only disrupts the comfort of basic health and safety but can disrupt who we thought ourselves to be.”

Connect: Instagram @realkellyart

ARTIST BIO: Sara Lou Stuart

Sara Lou is a painter, aerialist, and performer from Niagara Falls whose work mostly fall into the category of magic realism. As a painter, she crafts playful and haunted living worlds. Fond of multi-disciplinary wanderings, she explores immersive and site-specific installation art as loose expressions of contemporary circus with her troupe “Harmonic Shadow Circus”. Her visual landscapes are at once apocalyptic and idyllic, reaching far into the past and gently into a hopeful future. Sara Lou is inspired by happy dogs, night walks, and the movements of fungi.

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

“I am a neurodiverse woman who has had various mental health issues flow through me over the years”, says Sara, “and its meaning shifts with that flow. When I was younger, my mental health was a shattering and terrifying storm that I could not dream of escaping, and it coloured every experience I had. Years and wisdom have allowed me to develop coping strategies so that I can often function, and yet sometimes I still find myself living in a sick body, or passing days and weeks without energy, and feeling as if my life has been swallowed whole.”

Sara continues, “Sometimes mental illness feels empowering, having given me a nuanced understanding of a troubled inner world, which then lets me hold space and compassion for others when I am well. Other times mental illness feels dehumanising, particularly when others choose not to believe my words or experiences, or when I cannot do certain things. I’ve come to a place where I love myself, mental illness and all, and so understanding my own mental health means a well-forged peace.”

ON HER ARTWORK:

When lockdown began, Sara’s dog was at the end of her life. For months she had wanted more time with her and suddenly, she had it. Says Sara, “Lockdown and my dog’s golden days are inseparable for me. When she died two months in, lockdown provided me the space I needed to grieve. When I had my dog, my mental health often felt manageable, because I always had access to a safe place with a living being who loved me unconditionally. I wanted to paint our love, and to capture some of her spirit and the joy she brought me, while simultaneously making my mental illnesses visible.”

According to Sara, mental illness or not, there can be moments of deep love and authentic joy, and her dog knew the way. Her digital painting is a coloured cartoon, young in her oil painting process. One day, post-COVID, it will be given life in oil paints. Squint for a preview of what that could look like!

Connect: INSTAGRAM: @corvidlou FACEBOOK: @saralouart

Links: WEBSITE: http://www.serpentyl.ca

ARTIST BIO: Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson is an Artist, Teacher, Juror and Gallery owner of “Steve Wilson Studios and The Gallery” located 4681 Queen St. in Niagara Falls, in the downtown arts and cultural area. He is an elected member of the Ontario Society of Artists and has served on the board from 2018-2019. He also served as an elected member and previously Director of Exhibitions for the Society of Canadian Artists and an elected member of the Colour and Form Society. From 2003-2007, Steve was on the board of Directors at Beaux-Arts Brampton, serving as President from 2005-2007, and previously Vice-President of the Mississauga Arts Society.

Steve has shown his artwork across Canada, the United States, England, Tasmania and Turkey, in shows, including but not limited to, the Toronto Art Expo, Red Dot Miami, Paralux and Spectrum New York, VIBE Canada in London England and TAS ART Tasmania. He has been featured in many private and corporate collections throughout the world, in such notable places Queens Park, The Peel Gallery, Brampton City Hall, Mississauga Gallery and Burnie Regional Art Gallery. He has been published in several magazines and has received multiple awards for his work, spanning the past two decades.

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

Steve states, “It’s a struggle that I feel most people go through at different times and different levels, I had a brief bout back in the early 2000’s, not a feeling of sadness but of numbness, no joy or sorrow, just nothing, and I couldn’t seem to shake myself out of it. I sought treatment and fortunately I was fine after six months. I have also watched my friend’s family deal with the aftermath, when her son committed suicide from mental health issues, and I am aware of the lasting effect it still has on the family to this day.”

ON HIS ARTWORK:

Steve’s piece is called “2020”, forever known to future generations by just the year. It is an Oil on Canvas painting, depicting how isolating it felt to go through this time, a lone person wearing a mask and gloves at the Falls. It conveys a feeling of isolation, looking up for hope, and framed through a cut-out of an ancient doctor’s plague mask, which represents the COVID-19 virus.

Says Steve, “In my work I try to convey a feeling, an emotion or a message by capturing it in one frame or image that also tells a story. I want to challenge the viewer’s perception and provoke an emotion that makes them laugh, cry, or start a conversation. In some cases, I present a satiric look at the world we live in. I try to include those little ‘extras’ that allow the eye to explore and discover hidden gems or messages. My love for architecture and our urban and suburban landscapes draws me in and challenges the way I portray our world.”

To Contact: Instagram @stevewilsonstudios / Website: http://stevewilsonstudios.com

ARTIST BIO: Kerry Booker

Kerry is a 24-year old film photographer based in Niagara. She has been shooting photography for a year and began developing and scanning her own film this past March during the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. For Kerry, social media has made the idea of holding a photograph in her hands seem a little ‘out of touch’. Says Kerry, “Many of us take such carefully posed photos of everything from ourselves to our daily meals and I think film provides a unique juxtaposition to digital photography. The inability to see an image until the developing stage allows me to find something I admire in nearly every photo I capture. The entire process is truly a labor of love, from start to finish.”

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

Says Kerry, “I want to start by saying I believe mental health should be a topic we never shy away from speaking about. These [mental health] services should be accessible to absolutely everyone without exception.”

For Kerry, her relationship with her own mental health is always evolving. States Kerry, “I am much more connected and understanding of myself than ever before and I owe that to accessibility to counseling services. The pandemic has brought on tumultuous feelings for people around the world and we must collectively invest in mental health for the betterment of ourselves and others in our communities. Just sincerely asking how somebody is doing or offering support with their mental state, to extensive mental health services and facilities, we can literally help to save lives.”

ON HER ARTWORK:

This series of photographs, “Lonely girl” showcases Kerry’s friend Shawna and the eerie emptiness of Clifton Hill in March 2020. These photos signal the start of what was thought to be a 2-week lockdown in Niagara and in cities across the world, symbolizing feelings of loneliness and confusion as we collectively strayed away from “normalcy”.

These photos also conflict with something Niagara residents are all too familiar with, and sometimes may even dread – a busy tourist season. Says Kerry, “For as long as I can remember we have all navigated this street, as wide-eyed children with our families, as teenagers with new licenses and their parents’ cars, and now as adults, working hospitality jobs. Clifton Hill is a street that is known for its heavy influx of tourists and to see it so empty was chilling.”

To view photography: @35from905 on Instagram

To connect: @underageforjimmypage on Instagram

ARTIST BIO: Shalik Murrell

Shalik (pronounced: Sha; leak) is a self-taught Portrait Photographer, specializing in capturing candid street life, crowd movement, and playful portraits. He draws his inspiration from human connection, and as of late, human disconnection.

Says Shalik, “At 30 years of age, I’ve had plenty of time to grow as an observant gay black male. For about ten years, photography has acted as an escape from reality, a moment for me to step away from the fast-paced society and into deeper layers of myself, layers I call ‘creative vulnerability’. It is from here I find the magic in a duality of Light & Darkness.”

Shalik continues, “Observing the world through a lens is like viewing a play from the front row at the Opera house. Its a ticket with no destination, to understand, to explore, to interact, to reflect, to freeze time. Photography is where I leave the breadcrumbs for enjoyment, for love, and for change.”

Shalik expresses that living in St.Catharines, Welland, Niagara falls, Etobicoke, and back to Niagara Falls has exposed him to an unparalleled perspective of beauty and culture. He draws his inspiration from feelings that are almost invisible. “These feelings of emotion or connection rush through my being and cause me to stop dead in my tracks”, says Shalik. Those almost invisible moments are what catch my attention. Its the savoring of time, slowing down in these moments that make me unique in my craft.”

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

“Mental Health”, says Shalik, “Those words trigger uncomfortable crowding in my head. It is like pressing the rewind button on the movie of life and trying to make sense of a pixelated screen going by. For a while, I avoided any self-care. Sometimes, when old decaying thoughts roll in like tidal waves, I find it hard to sit with myself. I feel in order to handle those waves, I need to be in a “prepared mindset” or else unpleasant emotions take control.

At an early age, Shalik learned to suppress unpleasant emotions and feelings, subscribing to the old adage that “Boys don’t cry!” Avoidance and distraction was the best way of dodging emotional tidal waves. In high school, he found the surfboard for distractions by self-medicating with cannabis. Says Shalik, “In my youth, I was labeled as ‘The Cool Black kid’. My mother (Rose Murrell) took plenty of opportunities to teach me of how some people viewed my skin colour as a threat. Racism has been subtle, but discrimination has been more prevalent in my life because you can be more discreet with discrimination and claim it as something else.” Shalik adds, “Subtle and discreet is the Canadian way.”

ON HIS ARTWORK:

Shalik says, “I see more of myself in self-portraits than I do when I look in the mirror. The stigma over mental health is a shadow with glowing eyes looming. Studying “Child & Youth Work” at Humber College is what convinced me to shine my flashlight towards the shadows, to only reveal a mirror leaning against a cardboard box marked in my handwriting ‘Shalik’. The glowing eyes that loomed back at me were only my reflection. The Box with my name on it was filled with photos, notes, and cassette tapes from my life, and a snow globe labeled “The Future” that showed me whatever I thought about.”

Shalik continues, “There are still a lot of things in this box that I’m unpacking. I know now that the shadowy stigma of mental health was only my reflection and in order to dismantle the stigma, I would need to face myself.”

Shalik’s underlying message with “Cautious Break Through”: [Justice for Breonna Taylor (26) & Jacob Blake (29)] is that it’s a self-portrait series, addressing the paranoia that many black men / black people face every time they step outside of their homes. The purpose of this series is to express the state of his mental health and evoke the feelings of daily uncertainty in others. [Cases like Ahmaud Arbery (25), George Floyd (46), Breonna Taylor (26), Regis Korchinski-Paquet (29) and Jacob Blake (29) are what inspired these pieces.]

Connect: Instagram @shalikmurrell

ARTIST BIO: C. Starr

C. Starr is a grade 12 student from Welland, Ontario who has been working with art since they knew how to hold a pencil. They are currently studying at DSBN Academy in St. Catharines, but plan to apply to Brock University for their Psychology Program. Their art often focuses on realism & semi-realism, as they tend to work with charcoal, pencil, acrylic paint, and occasionally mixed media. They often include a wide variety of symbolism in their pieces, sometimes intentional and other times unintentional. They often make art as a form of therapy and create for themselves rather than for others. They plan on studying for a PhD in Psychology, where they want to explore how visual arts impact the brain and can be used as an aide in therapy for mental illness, as well as neurological disorders such as autism.

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

Mental health has been something that has surrounded them throughout their whole life. They have seen how it impacts those around them, as well as in themselves. C. Starr states, “I’ve learned that a person cannot be healthy, no matter how much they physically take care of themselves, if they don’t take care of their mental health alongside it.”

C. Starr admits that mental health can often be a huge challenge for them. “I notice how much I struggle with perfectionism, and that can create a huge issue when I feel like I’m not being successful”, they say. “My mental health is something I struggle to put first in line above everything else in my life.”

C. Starr continues, “I tend to be overly empathetic and focus on others until I realise that I really haven’t been taking care of myself. It can be extremely difficult to conclude that your mental health is deteriorating, but often when you do realise it, it is long after it has already started to decline. I have learned that failing to take a break when its needed can be detrimental to my health.”

“The pandemic helped me realize that just because I have time to take to myself, doesn’t mean I’ll take advantage of it and actually do it,” C. Starr says. “I need to push myself in order to take care of myself, just as everyone should.”

ART SUBMISSION:

“Around Us” This piece displays symbolism of their time in quarantine during the pandemic and how it’s affected their mental health. It comes from the phrase “we revolve around the sun”, which is often used to refer to a narcissistic person who believes that they’re in control of everything and that the “sun revolves around them”, when in reality, they are out of control of everything around them.

C Starr says, “This piece displays how I feel mentally stuck between every situation that pops up right now, as if looking with empty eyes, waiting for a sign to appear. Either side of any decision I must make doesn’t feel good to me, which causes the state of my mental health to decline. This piece also relates to me on a more personal level, where everything feels very out-of-body; it’s a situation where I’m just trying to push through, because I know that eventually, I’ll look back on it and have a deeper understanding of everything that I’ve experienced.”

They continue, “This piece strongly relates to how we’ve been stuck in our homes, watching the actions of those around us become uncontrollable and how we really have no choice in this situation but to wait it out and hope that eventually, we can all come together in a controlled manner to handle the situation in a way that will be better for all of us.”

Artist Bio: Giovanni Pennacchietti

Giovanni Pennacchietti (‘Gio’ for short) is a local Niagara impressionist/expressionist painter, woodcut printmaker (acrylic and ink, hand-printed in the Japanese Ukyio-e style), writer and occasional art critic. Largely self-taught, Gio received much of his inspiration from his mother who is a hobbyist painter. As an alumni of Brock University, having achieved both an M.A. Honours in Philosophy and an M.A. in Political Science, Gio paints with an expression of symbolism and often provoke themes dealing with the state of the subject in the modern world, locality and its relation to the landscape, dissident political movements, etc. His main influences ranges from New York abstract expressionists, Canadian ‘Group of Seven’ painters such as Emily Carr and Tom Thomson, and the later symbolists such as Nicholas Roerich and Odilon Redon, who painted with explicit spiritual and metaphysical systems in mind.

On Mental Health:

Mental health has been an issue that has affected Gio on a personal level, with family members, friends and even himself, having experienced struggles with depression, anxiety and ennui. From an early age, Gio has been a voracious student of Michael Foucault, Carl Jung and depth psychology, so the topic of one’s psyche, its social creation and individuation, has always been at the forefront of his thinking as an artist.

“How does the various social pressure around the subject contribute to mental health and what is considered the preferred state of normalcy?” This is a very basic sociological question, but on a deeper level, “how does the archetypal, and even spiritual state of the current zeitgeist in

modernity effect the state of the subject’s innermost desires, thoughts, and mental content”? These are the questions that are at the heart of Gio’s artwork.

On his art submission: “Falling Towers”

“Falling Towers” is an impressionistic painting from a photo reference Gio took of the last two towers standing during the demolition of the St. Catharines General Hospital. Having been born at the General and having an aunt who worked there as a nurse, Gio thought of how places of public utility like hospitals, that both serve an open public function and lack a specific identification of personal dwelling, affect people on a daily basis. On the day he took the photo, he met a few homeless people and had a conversation with one who had told him about his life and why he had ended up there. Gio was awestruck by the sight of the ruins around him and felt compelled to turn it into a painting.

States Gio, “The image of towers crumbling naturally have a symbolic value, especially a hospital in a time of the current global pandemic where sites of healthcare are thrusted into the public consciousness. We are exposed to medicalizing language such as “flattening the curve” to not have healthcare centers overrun, and the hospital has always been the intersection of various medical and psychiatric functions of regimentation and health.”

Gio continues, “A hospital being torn down might be materially a good thing, as the General aged and became inadequate. But the lack of use for these nonplaces, falling into disrepair, abandonment and ultimately thrown away without proper restoration and repurposing into other uses is indicative of the physical and even mental landscape of North American in general. The throw-away society, small towns and rural areas being left with the husks and tombs of post-industrial society, and the inhabitants of these ruins are also left behind with these monuments to decay. Jobs are offshored, communities displaced, the opioid crisis, etc. are all contributing factors to the current mental health crisis. Additionally, the current global lockdowns which has exacerbated the strain on mental health recourses for the homeless and destitute, it is no wonder that symbols of urban decay have become a persistent theme in the contemporary art world. My painting is a visual representation of these intersections of our current landscape.”

“Falling Towers” is a 12×16″ Acrylic, and mixed media on Canvas.

Follow Gio on Instagram @giovannipennacchietti.

For a broader display of previous works, visit Gio’s Facebook page at: giantartproductions

ARTIST BIO: Jess Tuff

Born and raised in St. Catharines Ontario, Jess Tuff is a practicing artist in the Niagara Region. He is a recent graduate from the Studio Art and Film Studies program at Brock University, earning degrees in each respective field. Jess has been involved in the Niagara art scene through local gallery shows, such as at the Niagara Artists Centre, as well as through his work as a historical tour guide at the Rodman Hall Art Centre.

Jess’s artistic interests lay in the realm of popular culture and how different forms of media affect people’s lives. Jess makes artwork through various mediums (preferred mediums include: pen, ink, pencil crayon, paper and sculptural) , both traditional as well as digital (tablets).

His creative roots stem from the traditions of cartooning, comic books, film, and animation. Jess unravels the unique, strange, and terrifying elements of daily life through a careful combination of mature illustrations and cartoons. He seeks to continue making art that offers audiences new and humorous perspectives of life, while balancing that with more challenging and exciting projects.

On Mental Health:

As someone who has witnessed the heavy toll mental illness can have on loved ones, Jess understands the necessity for proper treatment and the need for media that truthfully represents it. Says Jess, “I think I can speak for all visual artists when I say that art is created to connect people. Allowing individuals the space and platform to create or speak about mental health is something I consider as being vital and important.”

Project Description:

Project Title: Stop Looking at my Stress Bumps, 2020. Scanned and Digitally coloured Illustrations

For this exhibition, Jess created a series of twelve drawings that tackle themes of stress and anxiety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It all began with a question: “What would it look like if our stress and anxieties were to somehow materialize and grow out of us?”

Jess has created unique portraits of various people wearing face masks, with each person facing in different directions. Each individual face has undergone a strange mutation, developing large humanoid “stress bumps” that grow out of their skulls, each bump displaying various states of discomfort. These cartoonish “bumps with faces” stylistically clash with the depicted individual’s more realistic features. Behind each portrait is a straight horizontal line that connects each of the different portraits together. The solitary line that connects each portrait is reminiscent of a medical ‘flatline’ as well as the government’s attempts to ‘flatten the curve’. These drawings are scanned and then digitally coloured, offering a tug and pull between Jess’s technological and traditional sensibilities.

Jess says, “This experience in quarantine has allowed me the space to think about how people remain connected through isolation. I’m thinking about how everyone is experiencing the stress and anxiety of this pandemic. The virus isn’t selective; it is out to infect us all. I think about the stress and worry building up in (and out) of our heads, weighing us down as we try to move forward with our lives. I’m thinking about those who are suffering due to mental illness, and how the pandemic is affecting their lives.”

It is Jess’s hope that this series of work reminds us that we are all connected, and each of us have a responsibility to reach out and help those in need.

Follow Jess on Instagram @jesstuff_

Artist Bio: Tawny Stoiber

After studying art and architecture at The University of Toronto, Tawny paired her love of learning with her desire to visually express her daily curiosities. This altered the direction of her artistic practice to become one of inward contemplation and self-reflection. Her sketchbooks and raw canvasses reflected this mental shift and became a means of exploring her current interests in the natural world. For example, her work often mimicked the colours and textures she would see on a regular hike in the woods.

Tawny made her artistic practice an act of intentional presence. By drawing or painting what she was learning, she was able to literally slow down her consumption of information and sit with an idea in a mindful and creative way. This awareness of the value of ‘slowing down’ in the act of creating has became a tool Tawny has utilized to ground herself in times of mental distress.

On Mental Health:

During her quarantine experience, it had become even more painfully clear to Tawny that the loss of connection with others in isolation is not properly fulfilled through this archival form of an online substitution of reality. She found herself asking, “How much essential information do we miss out on when we rely primarily on this type of connection and communication? What effect do these gaps have on our lives in isolation?” When our greatest connection with the outside world is a compilation of curated moments, “fake news” and one-sided stories, it leaves us as a society, discombobulated and with no way to know what is real and true.

Says Tawny, “Seeing perfect moments plastered on your newsfeed isn’t any better. Unplugging from it all is healthy, but then you risk being uninformed and complacent to ignorance. Time during quarantine feels akin to waking up from a depressive bout, where you realize you can look on the past months and wonder if it was just a muddy dream.”

This lack of tactile presence within online connections are a huge burden on the already heavy stack of mental health issues that are actively aggravated by feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is something we collectively feel when we are unable to balance the online realm of social connection with in-person interaction.

Artwork submission: “Under Blue Light”.

In this piece, Tawny has attempted to express this compilation of unsettling feelings caused by these last five months of isolation by re-doing an artwork she made in January 2020, two months before COVID-19 hit Niagara. It was a self-portrait with no head in a style that was soft, light, and clear. Says Tawny, “I am expressing that I have learned to honour my relationship with depression by acknowledging that I will always be a work in progress and that I can thrive with or without the presence of my mental health challenges”.

For Tawny, reworking her drawing during this pandemic was to acknowledge what quarantine had made even more obvious, that basic in-person connection is integral to progress in the midst of a mental health struggle, and that the narrow window of the online world of connection has its own isolating effects on us. Compared to its former self, the artwork is now aged, muddied, and a little more volatile in emotion. The audience is hinted towards the online world by the central frame, which also alludes to how much narrower our view of reality becomes when we are cut off from experiencing things for ourselves. Says Tawny, “It was important that I retain some of the serene feeling of the original so as to not lose sight of the initial theme of acceptance within the struggle, which has been another important reminder during this quarantine period”.

Follow on Instagram at: @tawnystoiber

ARTIST BIO: Charlotte Mikolajewski

Charlotte was born and raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but she has lived in Göttingen, Germany, Waterloo, and Toronto before moving to her current home in St. Catharines. Charlotte is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist. She has specialized in figurative drawing and painting at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) where she completed a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) thesis program. She completed a Master of Education degree at Brock University specializing in teaching, learning and development.

Charlotte’s artwork has been exhibited at the Ontario Science Center as well as OCADU Gallery and Nuit Blanche Toronto. She has designed curriculum and taught visual art at several institutions including the Niagara Pumphouse Visual Art Center in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Waterloo Community Art Center in Waterloo, Ontario, and Clinton Junior Public School in Toronto, Ontario.

ON MENTAL HEALTH:

Charlotte grew up in a culture that highly stigmatized mental health. In recent years however, she has seen mental health support and concerns openly shared on social forums. She believes this change is important, even critical, especially in the wake of a pandemic.

“Personally, I have been very close to emotional suffering, including the loss of friends who succumbed to their emotional pain,” Charlotte says. “I chose to allow these experiences to fuel my artwork and am passionate about contributing to mental health awareness and efforts towards improving mental health.”

ON HER ARTWORK:

Charlotte states, “These past months of COVID-19, the scaffolding of my life collapsed, and I was overcome with anxiety and grief. I have not been prolific during this time of isolation simply because waking up every day to face increasing restrictions, including restricted access to art supplies, restricted studio and gallery space, loss of social and public life and fear of the future has become a daily battle. Confined to a small space and cut off from support, this is the story of many people as finances tighten and stress is high. I have lost many things but most of all, I have lost friends from drug overdose during this pandemic and I see the dwindling hope of things ever returning to ‘normal’.”

Charlotte’s figurative drawing entitled “Loss” is created with charcoal and pastel on paper. She deliberately chose this medium because it is easily smudged which is a metaphor for the fragility of the vulnerable. The figure drawings are intended to spark debate about both personal and collective human suffering. Says Charlotte, “I want to express the struggle of mental health, especially personal depression and anxiety. By depicting overwhelmed figures in vulnerable poses, it is my intent to invoke empathy for the child hidden in every adult body and the desire of humans to feel valued, loved and safe. I wish to show both the fragility and resilience of humanity.”

For Charlotte, drawing is a form of personal therapy, but these drawings are intended as a catalyst for change on a larger scale. Her work is a visual poem to evoke empathy for, and incite conversation and debate, about victims of school shootings, missing indigenous women, refugees and present-day slaves. It is a visual song for the oppressed and those who find themselves at the end of themselves. It is a documented reflection of a disturbing historic moment where we question what it means to be a thriving human.

“What strikes me about this COVID-19 quarantine is how personal anxiety is swept together and augmented on a global scale, gathering momentum, a tidal wave of stress that crashes down heavily on the individual, crushed and alone.” says Charlotte. “For this series I drew on personal experience to draw attention to the plight of desperate people in a desperate world at a desperate time.”

To Connect: http://www.charlottemikolajewski.com/

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

Rabindranath Tagore