Local artists honoured in province-wide exhibition celebrating the work of those living with mood disorders

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Thursday December 1, 2011

By Hollie Pratt-Campbell

EMC News - Breaking onto a local art scene is hard enough as it is, but can often seem like an insurmountable task when one is living with a mood disorder like depression or anxiety. The online initiative Touched By Fire stimulates and celebrates work created by such artists, it was started five years ago in memory of Rebecca Burghardt, a promising young artist who took her own life after a struggle with severe bipolar disorder.

This year, Kingston artists Leah Murray and Tanya Gwen Minnick had their work chosen from nearly 500 entries from across Ontario to be displayed at Touched by Fire's annual art show and sale, to be held Dec. 8 at Coopers Fine Art Gallery in Toronto.

"I feel pretty honoured to be chosen from that many people," says Murray, noting that she didn't find out about the show until the day of the submission deadline, and had to choose what she wanted to enter very quickly.

Her instincts proved to hit the mark, though, as four of her portraits of women - two paintings and two drawings - were chosen for Touched By Fire.

"I paint people I know and I also do self-portraits, but I prefer painting strangers," she says, explaining that she works mostly from photographs she finds online. "Maybe it's because I get to imagine what kind of people they might be."

Minnick's work is largely inspired by nature. Her painting Three Trees, featuring the title foliage on a green horizon, was chosen to appear in the show.

"I find comfort in nature, so a lot of my pieces are very textured with a nature theme on an abstract base," she explains. 

Minnick notes that it's important to have organizations like Touched By Fire, as they provide those living with mood disorders with a venue that allows them to find their voice in the art world.

"There's so much stigma around it, and I think there are a lot of incredibly creative people, especially in the arts, who do suffer with mood disorders," she says.

"I just think that if more people stand up and say 'yes I have a mental health disorder but I can still be creative and have something to say,' (it helps to combat that stigma)."

Minnick notes that putting yourself out there can also be a challenge due to the nature of the disorders themselves.

"(Being a part of this event) has helped me by giving me a place and giving me hope," she says. "When you're depressed and having a hard time, it's a very dark place...This is a medium that is accepting of all of us and all our issues, which is fantastic." 

Murray adds that she hopes her success will be inspirational to all aspiring artists. After all, she only started painting in March of this year.

"I never thought I could, but one day I just picked up a paint brush and started doing it. If anyone has ever wanted to, maybe this will be inspiring to them to just try. Even if they think they can't, everybody has something creative in them."

Minnick's work has been displayed in a number of shows around Kingston, and can currently be seen at Lululemon on Princess Street.

Murray is a member of the local Hope and Discovery Artisans organization, which also displays its members' work at a number of small venues around town.

For more information about Touched By Fire, and to view their online gallery, please visit www.touchedbyfire.ca.