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Community News
Gallery Shows Mental Illness No Bar to Creativity
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 5 page 8-8
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Marty Cohen’s "Celebration at the Tower of Babel" was one of his two works featured at an art exhibit sponsored by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression in New York City.

Cohen is one of a group of talented artists with mental illness who participated in an art exhibit and silent auction sponsored by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) in January.

In his two works on display, "Celebrity Heaven/Political Hell" and "Celebration at the Tower of Babel," Cohen has juxtaposed cutouts of hundreds of high-profile celebrities and politicians through the use of photo montage and collage to make tongue-in-cheek political statements and satirize current events.

For instance, famous musicians and actors can be recognized in the "heaven" of "Celebrity Heaven/Political Hell," and conservative politicians in the lower portion, or "hell" of the photo montage, along with statements about billion-dollar cuts being made in Medicaid funding. "With photo montage, I can create political and theatrical art," Cohen told Psychiatric News.

Cohen has discovered a variety of media that allow him to express himself artistically. In addition to photo montage and collage, he uses oil and acrylic paints and created a series of works called the "Doors of Expression," which are paintings on doors. He has painted more than 30 doors so far, including a rendering of the World Trade Center disaster on nine six-foot-tall doors.

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"My artwork is the thing that anchors me the most," says Marty Cohen (left). At right is fellow artist Jonathan Glass.

"My artwork is the thing that anchors me the most," said Cohen, who is no stranger to loss and instability.

When Cohen was growing up, he said, the loss of his mother and grandmother and the suicide of a high school friend the day before graduation led to his first mental breakdowns and to hospitalizations for mental illness in his early 20s. His difficulties were expressed artistically. "I am a mood-oriented artist. These losses influenced certain works," he said.

Despite being diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Cohen said that his life as an artist maintained a steady course. He received his master’s of fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and afterwards exhibited some of his work at an art gallery in New York City. However, Cohen said, his bouts with mental illness caused problems in other aspects of his life, such as his interpersonal relationships.

Currently, Cohen’s work is displayed at Fountain Gallery, which is affiliated with New York City’s Fountain House, an organization that helps people with mental illness in the recovery process (Psychiatric News, December 17, 1999). Only Fountain House members can display their art at Fountain Gallery, and those who display their art can also work at the gallery, as Cohen does.

"Working at the gallery provides structure to my day," said Cohen. "There are times when I just can’t paint in my studio all day because it is too much for me."

Until Cohen came to Fountain House in 1996, he received inadequate treatment for his psychiatric illness, he explained. However, through Fountain House, he met a doctor who placed him on medications that worked for him. He also found transitional employment. "The light came through the window," said Cohen.

Supporting Cohen at the NARSAD exhibit was fellow artist and Fountain House member Jonathan Glass, who also displays his art at Fountain Gallery. Glass has been involved in sketching and painting since childhood. Glass told Psychiatric News that each one of his sketchbooks has a theme. "Whether it is elderly people, religion, sports, or music—I draw from life. . .whatever is in front of me," he noted.

Glass also said that his life has changed for the better since becoming associated with Fountain Gallery. "Fountain Gallery centers me and helps me feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . Everyone at the gallery is there to support me, and I am there to support them."

Three years ago, Glass noted, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with major depression.

"My art is my therapy to some extent," he said. "When I create a good piece of artwork, everything seems to be going right in my life." Glass also said that when he is not creating art, he is "in a funk...it’s like getting a head cold—I’m not living life to the fullest."

Sometimes, Glass said, his depression has sidetracked his career in art. "I couldn’t readily pick up a pencil and draw when I was sick and in the hospital. Art requires life, and in order to have a life. you have to take care of yourself and be healthy to some extent."

In addition to working at Fountain Gallery three days a week, Glass is seeking additional work through Fountain House and is involved in a day-treatment program in New York City.

More information about Fountain Gallery and its artists can be found at www.fountaingallerynyc.com.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Marty Cohen’s "Celebration at the Tower of Babel" was one of his two works featured at an art exhibit sponsored by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression in New York City.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

"My artwork is the thing that anchors me the most," says Marty Cohen (left). At right is fellow artist Jonathan Glass.

"My artwork is the thing that anchors me the most," said Cohen, who is no stranger to loss and instability.

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