Sharon Rackham King was experiencing a heavy fog of depression when she painted a piece called "The Shadow Knows."
"(The painting) depicts my struggle with infertility, the depression and anxiety that came along with it, the joy of being a parent to two wonderful beings, and the sadness of knowing there could have been three," she said.
The Corvallis artist was going through a rough time and had always found painting helpful in those moments.
For some people, creating art is the easiest and most productive way to describe how they are feeling.
In "My Secret Double: An International Exhibit," Rackham King and 38 artists from the Northwest and the Baltics share their art and personal journeys of depression or struggles with addiction, including anger, suicide, fear and hopelessness.
The exhibit is on view through Oct. 30 in Oregon State University's Giustina Gallery at the LaSells Stewart Center. It includes an opening reception Friday night with guest speakers and live music.
Charles Robinson, interdisciplinary coordinator with the dean's office in OSU's College of Liberal Arts, says mental health issues are important global concerns facing many in our population.
"That's worthy of our interests and our activism, particularly in a community like Corvallis with a university like OSU," he said.
Robinson, who is doing marketing and public relations for the exhibit, added, "There's a real wealth of resources that could be brought together by an exhibit like this."
Rackham King agreed.
"Let's get this out in the open as a reality: Some of us live with mental illness. Accept the fact. Normalize it," she said.
The juried show is a partnership between OSU and a traveling exhibition with artists from Latvia, Estonia and Kazakhstan. It was jointly curated by Tina Green-Price of Giustina Gallery and Madara Ladzina of Imago Dei Latvia. Bruce Burris, a local artist and director of the CEI/ArtWorks Gallery in Corvallis, selected the works by Oregon artists.
Notable featured artists are Aleksejs Naumovs and Dzemma Skulme of Latvia, Vilen Künnapu of Estonia, and Bill Shumway, Charles David Kelley, and Delores Pollard of Oregon.
More than 50 works are displayed in several art forms. These include paintings, drawing, photography, fiber arts, sculpture, tapestry and mixed media.
Each artist wrote a small statement or poem about their personal journey. The notes are placed next to their displayed artwork.
"The little writing is helpful for people to engage further in the piece of art," Green-Price said.
In addition to Rackham King, other artists created works based on experiences or feelings that elicited depression, fear, pain, and loss in their lives.
Benita Cole's mixed media painting, "Subway Sleepers," depicts a homeless child who is crying tears of blood. Her statement reveals that she is terrified of her father, and the painting "is about his emotional incestuous abuse and what it cost me."
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Pollard said she was depressed by neglect and abandonment as a child. She expressed these feelings in "Haunted By the Holy Ghost," one of her paper and mixed media pieces.
"Years of work with recovery groups freed me of the shame and guilt of PTSD and DID (split-self dysfunction)," she said.
Estonian artist Vilen Künnapu's acrylic painting, "Self-Portrait," was inspired by Giorgio de Chirico's well-known 1917 painting "The Child's Brain." It shows an older man nude from the waist up sitting at a table. Part of his statement reads "Between the years of 1999 and 2003, I experienced crisis. These were hard years which resulted in my spiritual awakening."
Bill Shumway addressed both depression and addiction in his two featured works. In the acrylic painting "Self-Portrait as a Turn-Style Bridge" Shumway discloses that "he felt like a turn-style bridge" during a 2010 AA meeting. He said of the changes he was working through in his 12-step program, "I was beginning to turn and reconnect with a more normal way of living."
Photographer Alan Rowe shares a picture of a purple flower with "The Struggle to Be Seen." His statement said the beauty of flowers was an important image in his recovery through the 12 steps.
Several Baltic artists refer to light and faith as paths out of dark times.
Green-Price displays her own lithograph piece, "Hiding in Plain View."
She said she can understand how some people might find it difficult to submit their artwork for an exhibition with a theme of mental health.
"You're producing a piece of art that really bares your soul a little bit to the public, and that can be a pretty honest conversation," Green-Price said.
Rackham King found comfort in what she painted.
"I felt nostalgic, since the painting is based on a photo I had taken of our son's triple-cast shadow while he was discussing life with his big brother. I loved that moment!" she said.
Others noted in their statements that art was their means of coping with depression.
Carol Fairbanks pointed to art therapy in her acrylic painting, "Self Blessing," as her recovery process.
Green-Price and Robinson said it was vital that the exhibit incorporate the community and interested university divisions. This included OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts, and Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS).
"It's not just about LaSells (Stewart Center) having a pretty art show, this is a bigger statement with more people involved," Green-Price said.
To that end, OSU will host a series of public outreach sessions and workshops related to the exhibit throughout October. The events are designed for campus and community members to participate in, share their own experiences and identify the mental health resources that are available to them. For more information on these events, see https://lasells.oregonstate.edu/my-secret-double-outreach-sessions-and-workshops.
Green-Price would like for viewers not to misconstrue the exhibit as simply a "depressing art show."
"It's about hope. These artists have gone through or are going through this journey, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "They can be a help to other people."