Charlotte art exhibit explores mental health in all its ups and downs
Mental health can be a daily battle for many, with a range of ups and downs. A new exhibit opening Friday, Sept. 8, at the Charlotte Art League seeks to capture that.
Tristan Safonov is one of the local artists who conceived of the idea for the show, titled "Thrive," which weaves together art and empathy as it explores the many sides of mental health.
The exhibit features work from 12 local artists, including Safonov, who worked with a range a methods and materials.
Safonov joined WFAE's Nick de la Canal to discuss the new exhibit, and why he wanted to place mental health at its center.
Tristan Safonov: Mental health is very important here, like in this community. Most artists go through some form of mental health issues. I think it's something that isn't spoken about very often and I think it's a topic that needs to be discussed. So the idea was like, let's create a show that addresses these ideas, but also shows like — juxtaposing perspectives on it, so we have mentally thriving, and then we have mentally non-thriving. It's basically telling people like not everything is like perfect, but it's OK to have imperfections.
De la Canal: There's a lot of research that shows artistic activities like painting or singing or making music can really improve someone's mental well-being. Has that been a part of your experience as an artist?
Safonov: Definitely. That's sort of why I got into art. You know, I was going through my own mental health issues and I sort of found therapy through painting. That's originally why I started painting is because I was able to get these ideas and these issues out on a canvas because for me personally, the best way that I can communicate my feelings is through paint and through art. Some people do it through speaking through, you know, sound, but for me it’s painting.
De la Canal: I'm also curious about the COVID-19 pandemic because a lot of people's mental health didn't do well during that. But then also at the same time, a lot of people during that time, rediscovered artistic activities like painting and singing, you know and kind of brought that back into their life.
Safonov: So it's funny you say that. For me, You know, COVID was sort of a … That's when I began painting, like during I think June of 2020. I've always been artistic, but COVID sort of sparked a curiosity for me to find, like, an alternative, like something to do with, like, my free time. And I think a lot of people were going through mental health issues. And I do feel like a lot of those hobbies that came to be, I think a lot of that does stem from COVID itself from the period where people were bored or people had sort of revelations of, like wanting a change in their life. And I think that's great. I think, you know, being able to find those hobbies or those ways to be creative is amazing, and this show does have some roots in both mental health and COVID, I would say.
De la Canal: I imagine that you and a lot of the other artists put a lot of your own selves into this exhibit, and I wonder if it's difficult to put some of these pieces on display for the public to view and critique or judge when this art has such a deep personal meaning. Is that difficult?
Safonov: It is. It can be. I think it depends on the artist though. A lot of times people don't do it for reactions from people. If it's personal, you're doing it more for yourself and you're going to put it on the canvas. Now whether you decide to like exhibit that it's sort of up to you, but I don't know. Personally, I've never like had an issue with showing a personal piece. I would say personally there are stuff that might be too personal that I wouldn't even paint. So if I'm painting it, I'm painting it with the expectation that it's going to be shown to people. But there are like, certain things that I would not paint just because I have to deal with that internally.
De la Canal: What do you hope that people will take away from this exhibit after they view it?
Safonov: I want people to see that mental health issues do exist. There might be people who show up, who may not understand what mental health is, what mental health issues are, and I want them to realize, like there are people out here who are, like, struggling and suffering with mental health issues. But I also want those people who might be suffering to both number one, see that there are people who can identify with you like they do exist, but also we don't want to make it too bleak. We want to show people also that there is a better picture on the other side. It doesn't have to always be bleak, but we don't want to sugar coat things. Like life can sometimes be difficult to deal with, but don't give up hope.
"Thrive" will be on display at the Charlotte Art League from Sept. 8 - 30.