Grey matters: the colors of mental illness


Bailey Pitzer stands center before her creation Windborne

The National Alliance on Mental Illness had its third annual Grey Matters art exhibit demonstrating the struggles of the lives touched by mental health issues on canvas. Two hours were not enough for the catering, live music and touching conversations on Oct. 11. 

Among the artists showing their work at this exhibit, many were our own alumni and students. Their stories streaked across canvas and glass while they talked to visitors about their past, present and future.

Jason C. Slagle, MSU alumnus, cooperated with NAMI for the first time this year entering three of his recent works. Live in Color is a multi-textured painting that consisted of multiple broken squares using ink, acrylic and oil-based paints on the piece. Most of the details don’t catch your eye right away until Slagle shines his flashlight across the canvas changing the appearance of his work.

“People are always putting others into boxes that we can’t get out of,” Slagle said. “That’s not really true. We can always break out of the boxes others have put us in.”

Slagle currently works in information technology for American National Bank and Trust while working in his, relatively new to the area, studio in downtown Burkburnett. Studio on Main has existed in its location since August.

Brea’n Thompson, alumnus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, transferred to Wichita Falls with her husband two years ago. After her arrival, art became her focus, leading to more success than work she has done with her degree.

“Love the area,” Thompson said, “It’s probably the best place I’ve lived.”

Thompson’s work, ‘Jane in the Shadows,’ is a series of figures with bright coloring and mask styled faces. Her work has jazz influence and makes heavy use of her synesthesia, a condition that allows her to hear color and see sound.

“The creepy story is Jane is a ghost in my house,” Thompson said. “The more realistic story is that Jane is a manifestation of my health. Over the years, my work has started to form a personality.”

Thompson explained that Jane is her way of expressing herself on canvas. Her positivity causes her to lean toward bright colors in her paintings. 

Kerrigan Reyes, art sophomore, found herself questioning mortality at a very young age and struggling with different aspects of her life as she grew up. She said art has been a way to gauge her journey.

“You start a piece and you get to watch yourself grow as you do it,” Reyes said. “Your moods change and you get to see that twist where you were once angry and doing darker marks and then you get to do lighter marks because you’re more patient, you’re more kind, you may have more time.”

Reyes’s work, ‘The one who knows no fear,’ is of a sea devil angler fish. Its lamp illuminates its outline on the inky canvas.

“I really like angler fish because they live in darkness and yet there’s still light around them,” Reyes said.

She said people have to look for those little bright moments around them. That is what the sparks across the painting mean to her. Reyes said she is thankful for her biggest supporters, her parents. She is thankful for their open-mindedness towards her condition and how they were diligent in getting help while informing themselves.

Bailey Pitzer, art education senior, said her paintings represent the beginning and end of her journey using herons. 

“They signify a lot of strength and resilience through change which in my sculptural pieces. I feature snakes in them a lot which have a lot of symbolism,” Pitzer said. 

The significance is found in the situation that the snake and heron will get locked into a battle where the heron tries to eat the snake while the snake wraps its body around the heron’s neck.

“One of them is going to live and one of them is going to die,” Pitzer said. “There’s no way they can both survive. So it was resilience battling change.”

The beginning work, ‘Stunned,’ represents the feeling of being stuck. This feeling is emphasized by a branch passing through the heron’s wing. ‘Windborne,’ created a year after the first, represents the end of that feeling. The painting took between 140 and 160 hours to complete.

Pitzer is currently working on her portfolio and wants to include a therapeutic aspect in her lesson plan when she teaches in the future.

Logan Canafax, MSU alumnus, said nature is a passion of hers that finds its way into her work.

Her works are created with repurposed materials she often finds in thrift shops and dumpsters. Her process, alcohol ink, allows her to use a variety of materials from paper to glass.

“People don’t realize what they take for granted every day, just as I don’t, and we get so caught up in everything that we have to do every day that when we move it’s like we just throw everything out and start new,” Canafax said. “We shouldn’t do that. We should recycle. You should make the earth happier by not making so much garbage.”

She learned the technique on her own after college. Her pieces on display are bright bursts of color across a glass background. 

“I started doing the alcohol inks because it was helping me deal with things that the cyanotypes didn’t do,” Canafax said. “I still love my cyanotypes, I still do them and I will do them again.”

Canafax often approaches her fellow students and alumni about their participation with NAMI and frequently arrives early to assist with the set up of the event. She moved to Dallas-Fort Worth six months ago, but still intends to participate in next year’s Grey Matters exhibition as well.

Each of the artists is open about their struggles and journeys to a degree they are comfortable with. They started using art as a point of self-reflection and mental health management, and they said they have increased the purpose of their works into public awareness.