365 Days of Bipolar Art
The Bipolar Burble blog welcomes Missy Douglas Ph.D, a British artist and writer with bipolar disorder who works under the studio name ucki ood. Her latest project, the 2:365 Art Book, is available now on Kickstarter.
It’s a commonly held belief that there are close links between bipolar disorder and the creative voice. If you just type the words “bipolar” and “artist” into any Internet search engine, the names of Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and even Michelangelo scream out at you like the painted hero of alleged fellow sufferer, Edvard Munch.
Much as I hesitate to mention myself in the same breath as these four great artists, I do believe this theory to be true. As a girl, I walked the unstable line between anxiety and precociousness. If I was charming and witty, I was also withdrawn, furious and conceited in equal measure. Yet one thing was unerringly constant: the crayon in my hand. Despite various professional flirtations, what I was to become – an artist – was never really in question. By the time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19, it didn’t really come as a shock. I was an artist, and all artists were “crazy,” right?
Bipolar Suffering for Art
In a letter to his brother in 1888, Van Gogh wrote, “the more I become dissipated, ill, a broken pitcher, the more I too become a creative artist.”
Van Gogh’s troubled words lend weight to the romantic and enduring notion that artists are brooding and temperamental, only producing great work if they suffer or face adversity. While this is not a universal truth, I certainly feel that my art and my bipolar disorder have always been intertwined. The white periods of numbing despair are channeled into my work. When my body buzzes and my thoughts surge and scurry, I am filled with unparalleled creative energy and intellectual clarity. My butterfly mind can make singular connections others cannot, and when I depersonalize, I see the world from different planes and angles. Experiences, whether good or bad, are analyzed on canvas and in polyurethane: plaster-clad glory. For me, being bipolar both disables with ferocity and enables like nothing on earth.
Yet despite embracing my symptoms, I kept my mouth shut and donned my cloak of “normality.” In a world where acknowledging imperfection is tantamount to failure, I held back for fear of being rejected or, worse still, regarded as melodramatic. I am reluctant to admit that I am an artist at the best of times. I didn’t want to add “self-absorbed” to the “pretentious artistic asshole” label I already wore. I got on with my life and dealt with the highs and lows in ashamed secrecy.
365 Days of Bipolar Art
All that changed on January 1st, 2013. A long 17 years after diagnosis, I decided it was now time to reveal my condition to my family and friends. Each day, for the entirety of the year, I would paint a canvas. Completed wherever I happened to be in the world, each painting would reflect my emotional and psychological state – mania, depression or stability – over that 24-hour period. The aim was not only to give people a glimpse into my life as an artist, but also to provide a candid visual record of the personal day-to-day creative journey of someone living with bipolar disorder. Opening myself up in such a public way was petrifying, yet what resulted was a collection of 365 paintings that had more emotional power and capacity to challenge stigma than I could ever have imagined.
Now, the 2:365 Art Book, featuring all 365 images, is on the point of being published. (Help me get this work out into the world via my Kickstarter campaign.) When I look back over the paintings, I recognize the shifting patterns of my bipolar disorder through coded colors and forms. For the first time, I appreciate that living in the eye of the bipolar storm is exhausting for both me and those cast in its shadow. But most importantly, the project as a whole reinforces my belief that creative endeavor can be therapeutic in dealing with, or at least helping us understand, the idiosyncrasies of the disease. And that having the courage to come out as a bipolar sufferer is one of the most important things you can do, because it can encourage and empower others to do the same.
Missy Douglas Ph.D is a British artist and writer who divides her time between New York City and Seattle. She works with fellow artist Kim Rask, under the studio name ucki ood. Their latest project, the 2:365 Art Book, is available now on Kickstarter through March 5th. Please check out the campaign: pledge if you can and spread the word!