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Art and Well-Being @ Esther Klein

by Cindy Stockton Moore

Portals is a group exhibition of five women connected through their research into art, psychology and health. Working primarily as educators and art therapists, the collected artists employ mixed-media to expose concepts related to their clinical study and personal introspection. They are united in the belief that the process of art-making can become a vehicle for well-being.

In What do you do with the archives, Jessica M Drass re-assembles her field notes to create a mixed media scrapbook of aestheticized collage. Combining magazine clippings, handwritten phrases and overlaid found text, the resulting palimpsest shows a process of tactile manipulation and re-examination.

Michele Rattigan presents a series of intricately drawn works on paper. Her watercolor and ink drawings depict a process of structured, repeated mark-making – a creative de-stressing strategy and mindfulness technique.

In her brightly-hued acrylic paintings, Nancy T MacGregor illustrates the Stages of Grief using bird skeletons as symbolic imagery. The artist explains that through this series she is processing the recent experience of a personal loss.

Katrina Carroll-Haskins describes her work as a “self study” that examines her new relationship to technology via Virtual Reality. Her mixed media painting A World is Waiting features the tell-tale VR headset - a google-like apparatus that covers the eyes of an ink-drawn figure surrounded by paint. Her recent exploration into virtual art began in the Summer of 2018 when she started work as a Research Fellow for Dr. Giriji Kaimal.

Dr Kaimal’s study is gathering qualitative data about the experience of making art in a virtual environment using Google Tilt Brush. Immersed in a digital space, participants are walked through the interface of the program that allows them to paint and draw with reactive brushes through a pair of hand controls. After they are introduced to the tools of the program, the participants are set free to move around the space and simply create with no overt direction - an open-ended approach familiar in art therapy. Most participants show excitement about the experience, although some report missing the tactile responsiveness of working with traditional art material.

This IRL engagement with material is apparent in Dr. Girija Kaimal’s own work on display in Portals. In Backyard Canvas, Dr. Kaimal combines natural elements (wood, clay, tree bark) with the manmade (ink, acrylic and nails) to create circular tableaus in sculptural relief. Meant to be viewed from above, the work offers alternative landscapes to visually explore. The base of each small world is the cross-section of a tree from which painted elements ‘grow.’ Likewise, in her Nature Canvas series, Dr Kaimal uses large Teak tree leaves as the support for her intricately patterned paintings, in which stylized, organic forms branch and swirl.

“In our scholarship, we have found repeatedly that active artmaking (in addition to receptive viewing of art) can lead to physiological health such as lowered cortisol levels and activation of the brain’s reward pathway, as well as psychological well-being like improved mood, self-efficacy and creative agency.”

In Portals, Esther Klein Gallery invites visitors to test these findings out for themselves. In addition to the exhibition, a series of hands-on workshops and VR sessions will further explore how visual self-creation can affect health and well-being.