NOVEMBER 6TH, 2020
(Left: Process of painting Breathe Me, 2017)
My work has always been expressive, reflective, laborious, challenging, and personal. As a teenager, creating was how I processed life to make it out to the other side. I went to The School of Visual Arts in New York City and graduated in 2006 with a BFA focusing on painting. The mental and emotional birthing of that degree drained me and I stalled out from creating. There were many other forces like, a recession, that impacted how I moved forward in life. I still made art through all of it but without any direction.
In 2015, I was resurfacing from the recession depression and started dreaming again with an art future in mind. By 2017, I was invited to participate in Studio Waltz, a local artist collective with an annual two day show. This gave me the motivation to create a body of work. The Deconstructed Self Portrait series was born and it represented years of pent up artful energy centered in emotional processing and experiences I had in therapy. The imagery, style, and subject matter is a distinct representation of what and how I paint.
In 2018, I started graduate school at the University of Florida in their College of Arts in Medicine. This program is for artists to learn how to be part of the healthcare system to provide art experiences for wellbeing. It is a new field and often confused with art therapy. Artists in healthcare can work with art therapists, as part of hospital staff, develop community programs, and a wide range of other opportunities but do not offer any therapy or medical treatments. My studies centered on working with people with aphasia, a language disorder often occurring after stroke or traumatic brain injury. Working with Voices of Hope for Aphasia, I spent over 100 hours learning how to develop and demonstrate art experiences for this population. I learned a great deal about patience, resilience, the endless abilities of our brains, and the impacts of creating in a community. I worked really hard to develop a research process and paper that would further research for this population and also honor their autonomy and adaptability. As I was finishing the last of my edits to my thesis paper I got a big wake up call.
Three weeks before graduation I had a seizure and spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. This turned my whole world upside down and set fire to so many ideas and plans post graduation. I still graduated in December 2019 despite my brand new view of life and challenges. I had come full circle to my teenage self creating art as a healing tool but now armed with research and science on how to share my calling with the world.
As I write this today, it is almost one year since I had my last seizure and I can now see that moment as a gift. I have officially been diagnosed with epilepsy, wasn’t allowed to drive for six months, had to find the right medication for my body, and find out what my new normal is. It has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions and then on top of it, a pandemic, racial injustice, and a criminal administration. Managing stress physically and mentally is my greatest priority to maintaining my health and wellbeing. I have spent that last 11 months exploring what that means to me and this is now the focus of my art.
What does it look like to make peace with my diagnosis and do I embrace it? Is it part of who I am? Is my brain who I am? On a broader scale, I’m investigating what it means to live with a chronic illness and how it impacts identity. I hope my new work gives insight and a voice to an illness that is not visible, hope to all that we are stronger and more resilient than we know, and the permission to take care of yourself no matter what.
Above paintings from left to right:
Portrait of Illness
For more information please go to my website – MasonGehring.com
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