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Society for Contemporary Craft exhibit uses art to touch on mental-health issues

| Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Janis' 'Echoes,' 2015
Anything Photographic
Michael Janis' 'Echoes,' 2015
Edward S. Eberle's “Guy(D),” 2009
Edward S. Eberle
Edward S. Eberle's “Guy(D),” 2009
Jennifer Ling Datchuk's “One whiteness can cover three kinds of ugliness,” 2014
Mark Menjivar
Jennifer Ling Datchuk's “One whiteness can cover three kinds of ugliness,” 2014
Ian Thomas' 'Compensation,' 2011
Ian Thomas
Ian Thomas' 'Compensation,' 2011
Kaitlyn Evans' 'To Carry On,' 2014
Nick Heyl
Kaitlyn Evans' 'To Carry On,' 2014

Opening this weekend at Society for Contemporary Craft, “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health through Art” examines creativity's role in mental health.

With more than 30 works by 14 contemporary artists, the exhibit looks at the impact that mental illness has on society, and the role the arts can play to encourage positive self-expression and guide effective mental-health treatment.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness , one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year, and one in 17 lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

“Mental illness is a topic of primary concern for many of us, but it remains a taboo subject,” says Janet McCall, executive director of the Society for Conemporary Craft. “A primary goal of ‘Mindful' is to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and to help increase understanding and grow compassion.”

To that end, many artists included in the exhibit have approached the subject directly.

Ian Thomas of Slippery Rock shows several works that examine the relationship between pharmaceutical drugs and their user.

With his pill-shaped earthenware pieces, Thomas illustrates, as he puts it, “the daunting regulatory intake of medicines and the deep introspective view one might have contemplating their role in “normality” if indeed there is such a thing.”

In similar fashion, Michael Janis of Washington, D.C., creates glass pieces with visual and spatial depth that are “inspired by ways we transform ourselves,” he says.

By layering and fusing sheets of glass with overlapping elements, Janis' “Echoes” has created an interactive commentary using intricate glass-powder drawings. Each element of the glass works in “Echoes” depicts a pair of overlapped faces created in fused glass powder arranged so as to create a new, third face.

“The imagery was intended to suggest the struggle to balance the different worlds and as a depiction of the fate of both the inner and outer worlds,” Janis says. “I wanted to show a sense of connection between the worlds, and the use of clear glass helps reinforce that understanding.”

The overlapping faces suggest that even in solitude, one is always at some point touching someone else and together creating a shared world.

With three pieces titled “one whiteness can cover three kinds of ugliness,” Jennifer Ling Datchuk of San Antonio explores her interest in conflict as experienced through issues of race, identity and gender.

The title is an old Chinese saying.

“The pale-skin beauty ideal is deeply embedded within East Asian culture,” Datchuk says. “This saying emphasizes that having fair skin can “cover up” one's faults, and that if a woman has a pale complexion, she will be considered beautiful and desirable.

Datchuk has placed porcelain mirrors, gloves and powder puffs in an old drawer, trunk liner and jewelry box. “These everyday domestic items can be hidden, tucked away, and the perfect fairy tale beauty can be kept a secret,” she says.

In this way, the pieces focus on unraveling the pressures of conformity and the pain in search of perfection.

For Kaitlyn Evans of Mansfield, a relatively recent move to Massachusetts to pursue her graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth proved overwhelming at first.

“Moving to an unfamiliar city that appeared rough and its people unpredictable left me feeling vulnerable,” Evans says. “It is difficult to articulate what I am ultimately afraid of, but I long for a sense of security and seek respite from emotions I do not fully understand.”

These insecurities led Evans to make enameled, handheld objects that contain her uneasy state. As she says in regard to the small handheld piece “To Carry On,” with it “the unfamiliar becomes manageable in my hand, able to be contemplated, clutched or tucked away.”

Of course, this show is full of gorgeous pieces that can simply be viewed as art for art's sake, if one chooses to eschew the pretext. Such as “Guy(D),” a large black porcelain platter from which a split portrait emerges.

There is no pre-conception, no intention that is brought into the painting,” says its creator, Edward Eberle of Squirrel Hill. And, thus, no narrative is implied.

“Making things, painting things, for me is much like jazz, like free-form dance, like imagistic poetry, like stream-of-consciousness writing,” Eberle says. “The form or structure is presented, ... memory takes over and the image is exposed and acted upon through painting and all those things that just happen.”

There will be an opening reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 18. It's open to the public with a $5 suggested donation at the door. A Mindful workshop will be offered in the SCC Studio from from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 19: “Meditative Paper Cutting with Gianna Paniaqua.” Registration is required; call 412-261-7003 for details.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 19 will be the Pittsburgh premiere of the Depressed Cake Shop, an international pop-up bake sale raising mental-health awareness. Confirmed Pittsburgh-area bakers include: 2 Local Girls, Colangelo's Bakery, Eliza's Oven, Gluuteny Bakery, Prantl's Bakery and Vanilla Pastry Studio, and Kara's Couture Cakes of Buffalo.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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