View crossings at the Promenade Gallery (located inside the building at 400 W. Rich Street, Columbus, OH, 43215) from July 9 to August 6, 2021. The exhibit is open to the public during Franklinton Friday on July 6, 6 – 10 p.m. and by appointment. Email email@example.com or call 614.744.8110 to schedule a tour.
crossings features five artists who were slated to exhibit at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery in 2020 but unable to show artwork in person due to the pandemic. Many of the pieces now on display originated during this catastrophe and reflect how the artists navigated the past year: through visual journeys beyond the boundaries of quarantine, to bucolic landscapes and new cities; through creative experimentation; through brutally honest self-reflection; through the pursuit of justice. Across different subjects and mediums, the works remain connected by threads of survival and renewal.
**COMING SOON: Programming information**
My artistic career began two years ago during my recovery from Stage IV laryngeal cancer. I’d lost my vocal cords, my physical stamina, and my life as I had previously known it. Alcohol provided some comfort while I sat at home, but ultimately dragged me into dark, lonely places. One day, my wife suggested I try painting.
I’ve always been an active, outdoorsy, and creative person. Before living in Columbus and receiving my diagnosis, I spent time in San Pedro, California and Las Vegas, Nevada, where I ran my own masonry business and styled stone and concrete for people’s homes. Outside of work, I camped and spent time in the mountains. My wife taught me to snow ski and I regularly visited the slopes in California, Nevada, and Utah. I’ve always wanted to return to these places and never expected to be laid up so soon. Now, my mind wants to play, but my body doesn’t.
As I’ve grown as an artist, the paintbrush has helped me revisit these and other places, to take them out of my memory and bring them back to life. Using a discarded table as a workbench in my basement, I paint snowy mountains, dense forests, boundless fields, and wildlife. When I’m creating, I’m active and working with my hands once again. This helps me manage my depression and anxiety, and I no longer want to drink.
I have about 500 acrylic paintings in my house, and I’ve put about 300 of them in handmade wooden frames. Because yard sales are so popular in Columbus, I decided to try selling artwork outside of my home. Drivers often stop to take a look at the pieces I’ve propped up on my lawn, and many have sold. I believe I’m supposed to help my fellow man, so this is important to me. In addition to advancing my own recovery, if I can use what I do to make someone else happy, that’s the bottom line.
The Quarantine Diaries
When the world goes sideways, I turn to myself. It's a habit I've had since I was a child. Creating helps me make sense of what is going on within and outside of my body. I take my disabilities and turn them into superpowers. Make them pretty and clean and dark. Since 2011, self-portraiture has granted me the space to explore the space my pain occupies. To understand how it manifests in my body and mind in order to purge it. It's performative, a dance between myself and the camera, my silent partner in crime. In an uncomfortable era it's a safety blanket, a means of communicating when other forms have been diminished. What do I create in the space pain occupies? Myself.
FoR: Faces of Recovery
This series of photographic weavings pays homage to the people around me who deal with mental disorders or substance abuse issues. Mental health and substance abuse affect a wide variety of people from my immediate family to close friends. Through a series of photoweavings, I put a face to issues usually kept hidden, invisible illnesses that create a driving force for so much that we do, affect how we interact with the world around us, and sometimes break us down. Each individual I photographed for the series opened up to me during the course of the shoot, sharing their strengths and vulnerabilities in managing their day-to-day lives and allowing me to capture quiet moments. I carefully wove thin strips of these portraits, putting the photographs – and the people in them – back together.
Then the pandemic hit. Our photography sessions were cut short as we all sought refuge in our homes from the unknown. Mental states tanked and were pushed to the extremes in the months that followed. My original idea shifted. Instead of large-scale weavings, I worked smaller, creating pieces that were only 13 x 20”. Each cut and weave were more intimate as a result. As I wove, I searched for imperfect moments when the details became mismatched while thinking of how they all came together as a portrait. Weaving FoR granted me a small piece of sanity while battling my own demons. A way to remember that I wasn’t alone.
I started this work with the desire to give people a safe space to share their vulnerabilities with me, to speak about their lives, hopes, dreams, and struggles. It was for us, for that moment, for all the battles we’d survived and all those still to come. I also created it for you: to let you in and show you how mental illness and substance abuse can affect anyone.
I am an artist with a passion for figurative art. I have always been fascinated by the rhythms of the human form in all its shapes. I often explore these using a mix of charcoal and black pastels, as well as oil paints.
The majority of my pieces on display here are from my Lost to Shadow series. With this body of work, I wanted to convey what it’s like to live with depression: the hidden turmoil of a life ever-interrupted by a mind fascinated with its own destruction, and the loss we feel each and every day as the shadows looming in our psyche claim yet another piece of our will to go on. I’ve been living with depression and suicidal ideation for most of my life, and the idea for this collection came to me during my stay in a mental health facility after a suicide attempt in November 2017.
Making art does not come easily for me. For many artists who struggle with mental health issues, the artistic process can feel like a purging, but I often do not find peace in my work. For me, making art is more of a compulsion. My process is mentally taxing as my mind races to criticize my every mark, and I battle my own self-loathing every time I create. Earlier on, I would often lose this battle and destroy whichever piece I was working on, but as I have learned more – both about the process of making art and about myself – I’ve built more endurance to withstand my mind’s darker moods.
This past year has found me wrestling with myself over what it means for me to make art. And, in truth, I don’t think I have an answer. I know that I simply haven’t had the mental stamina to make as much art since the pandemic began, though. Especially the kind of art that has a message about my mental health. So, I spent time just trying to make something beautiful. However, when looking out at the world recently, I haven’t found much beauty to be inspired by. I sometimes need the promise of hope to dig any up inside me, just some morsel I can use as reference in my search.
I often don’t feel like I am an artist. I don’t really feel that the work I do is worthy of the title Art. Sometimes the effort doesn’t feel worth it. Sometimes it just hurts too much. But, for some reason, I can’t stop doing it. Maybe that’s all the proof I need.
I paint with household items, such as clay, make-up, and nail polish. I mold and blend these materials using various wood-burning tools, a heat gun, and hot glue to form abstract images on old picture frames, glass, wood, and foam board. My paintings of landscapes, dancers, and musical instruments contain beauty and movement; they are also textured, unfiltered, and raw. I could say the same thing about myself.
From 2005 to 2015, my life was consumed by major depression and chronic pain. I relied on medications, such as narcotics, to cope with my mental and physical illnesses. My elderly parents struggled with their own health problems, which was also a part of my daily battles. My mom passed away after three years of emphysema and lung cancer. Soon after that, my father ended up in the hospital dealing with a perforated ulcer. I signed up for Medicaid, but I did not get the medication I needed for my mental illness. Instead, I continued to rely on the opioids to help me escape from the world and my dilemmas.
My wake-up call came when I overdosed on pills while I was on my way to an appointment with my neurologist. I woke up in the emergency room, where doctors and nurses were working on me. They put me under observation, and I woke up later at a psychiatric hospital. In the week that I spent there at Christmastime, I was sexually harassed by the men who were on my co-ed floor. It was a horrific experience that caused me to lose weight and my hair. After I left, I shut out the world for several years. I finally decided that I needed a fresh start, and I left my family home.
In 2013, I moved into my very first townhome, where I started to paint from photographs with materials that I had around me, such as Q-tips, crayons, and Rust-Oleum. I had no formal training. In 2015, friends, family, and social workers started encouraging me to display my artwork.
My very first art show was at Concord Counseling, and my dad was able to attend, despite his declining health. Since then, I have participated in numerous fundraisers, including the Art of Recovery, and have shown my work at the Mac Worthington Studio and inside Chromedge Studios. I am also a resident artist at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery's SEEN Studios.
After my father's death the following year, I had to reinvent myself once again. Every day, especially now during these trying times, I use art to cope with my major depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. I have learned to be content through my paintings, which has given me a brighter look on my life. I have been able to see beyond my depression, where I've found ways of being more grateful.
Aimee Wissman is a self-taught visual artist and the co-founder of the Returning Artists Guild.
Since my release from prison, now three years ago, the work I make is slowly changing, in the way that it should. I’m being driven by a longing for justice, a need to make something come from my/your/our trauma, and to be (perhaps) released in the making.
I use a variety of materials, but my first interest is in the surface. Through working things over, sometimes furiously, almost always over long stretches of time, I create a sense of depth and spectacle. The surface, the micro to macro of the painting, is one way I’ve learned to talk about all the little details of something like mass incarceration.
I frequently use a symbolic language to talk about erasure, dehumanization, and oppression. Uniforms, numbers, chains, razor wire, interior/exterior carceral spaces, collide with bridges, trains, tunnels, and parks. I see no difference in the construction and I see many similarities in intent.
The figurative work dives deeper: body as raw material, our enslavement to capitalism and carceral states, and finally, the body’s return to dust, to brick, to block, to stone.