In Patrick land, the skies are made of thick globs of pink gloop. They glide down turquoise land masses like vaginal secretion. I want Patrick’s pink and turquoise on my body. I want it all over me always, shielding me from everything I hate. Patrick paints on clothes as well. They’re armor. But instead of metal planks shielding the body from external intrusions, the substance of the mind and body: pain, sex, love, hate, become a palpable source of power. In Patrick Church world, I’ll wear my darkest thoughts on my tank top. I’ll frame my fears in stitches of leather violet.
At the Wellcome center’s exhibition: Bedlam, Mental Illness and Beyond, artist Hannah Hull designed a mental asylum based on the advice of 432 people who suffer from severe mental illness. It’s a beautiful place. The asylum, called “Madlove,” is filled with beautiful art and calming activities like gliding through pine trees. “Is it possible to go mad in a positive way?” She asks.
The lines that span Patrick’s portraits:
“I lay all alone, crippling, loneliness”
“Outsider, not good enough, not straight enough, cunts”
“Sobriety is killing me, I want coke and dick”
“Totally revolting, so ugly”
“I am so so afraid of being old”
“not so afraid to die anymore”
“terrified, my emotional state is destroyed, constant fear.”
In Patrick’s words: “I try to be as honest as I can when I make work about my personal battle with this illness, and by letting myself be vulnerable, I am able to help others. People often relate to one of my statements, and knowing I am not alone in this hellish situation is really comforting and empowering.”
Not all of the phrases revolve around mental illness. The phrases are like verbal sinews buried under skin. He pricks it open and it comes out pink, purple, turquoise and orange. He liberates the realities we try to suppress. The combination of words and images create a multi-medium art fest. Art becomes poetry, and the images become even more accessible, as you read the phrases, and hear them, within yourself.
In Patrick world all of the glittery gloop that is trapped in our bodies by society’s wooden planks can be sawed off. Patrick’s thick, formally structured lines mimic those wood planks.
He depicts and verbalizes topics which may be seen as “taboo,” creating an unashamed, honest space for viewers. In Patrick’s words:
“Most recently I have been making my confessional self portraits, and I am really enjoying exploring the taboo theme of ‘mental health’ and my personal battle with it. The response I have had to these pieces have been really overwhelming, I guess I make these works to come to terms with the fact that I sometimes suffer, I’m sometimes vulnerable, and I’m sometimes humiliated, documenting these intense emotions is really cathartic.”
As Hannah Hull and Patrick prove, vulnerability, suffering, pain and mental struggle do not have to be coated in layers of charcoal and grey. Depression dressed in pink is still depression. But I suppose it may show how mental illness can come in a million shapes and sizes, and there is no reason to confine it to mono-chromatic black.
Words: Lael Hines
Images: Patrick Church