Painter of the mystical, otherworldly, sensual, and whimsical.

I'm a painter living and working in the beautiful finger-lakes region of Western New York State. I am also an avid gardener and nature lover, so the lush green rolling hills, gentle streams, and majestic lakes that surround my home in this world often appear in the fantasy worlds of my paintings.

Many of the pieces draw inspiration from folk tales, myths and legends. These "teaching tales" were what drew us together around our hearth-fires for centuries, and I believe those stories still carry power.

I enjoy looking at these ancient tales, through my eyes, and painting what I see, no matter if it's beautiful or disturbing. But what's more fun is when others can see those same paintings and find something within of value that speaks to their soul directly. I do not plan for this, but am honored when it happens, and, oh, yes, do love hearing about it every time that it happens. It reminds me that maybe we are not so different after all.

Glad to meet you, and please enjoy the paintings!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Schizophrenic who Painted Cats

Finding Louis Wain has been my "You Are Not Alone" of the week. 

Louis Wain's deeply fascinating life and resulting body of work provide a surprisingly intimate view into the perceptions of the schizophrenic mind.  Remember, he lived between 1860 and 1939, in an era when the study of psychiatry was in its infancy. However, watching the progress of his life's work is to watch the process and "degeneration" of the mind that results from this "chronic mental disorder."

His early work is remarkably realistic.  Whimsical., creative, and fun, yes, and, to a point, these are "realistic" cats... or, at least, recognizable as cats by the average child.  Since childrens' books show cats behaving as human beings, I won't say that "furry art" is strange. In addition, "Reynard the Fox" appeared in English literature in 1481, so I can't even claim that Louis Wain invented this.

Above: "Katzenklub" by Louis Wain

According to the website End of the Game, "Wain was always fascinated by cats, but when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, he started drawing them in silly situations to amuse her. His drawings grew in popularity and were featured on greeting cards and in magazines and newspapers. Life was good, that is until his wife died of said cancer and he started to lose control of his mind."

Above: "Snow" by Louis Wain

Current research shows that a schizophrenic usually doesn't truly "loose their mind" because of a specific incident.  It's a more reasonable guess that Louis' earliest symptoms begin manifesting in adolescence. According to the Mayo Clinic, "In men, schizophrenia symptoms typically start in the teens or 20s. In women, schizophrenia symptoms typically begin in the 20s or early 30s. It's uncommon for children to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and rare for those older than 45."

Put bluntly, by 45, the symptoms have become noticeable a long time ago.  These days, if you're a schizophrenic, I'd really like to hope somebody has noticed and begun to get you the help you need before age 45.  Given how much more bearable life can be with the right mix of lifestyle changes and good meds, I'd like to hope anybody with this could get help as soon as possible.  However, this was a different era, so Louis wasn't actually diagnosed until 57.  
 The chances that there was an "onset of his disease at 57," are highly unlikely.  Looking at the work that was created before that diagnosis, I feel it's possible, even easy, to see beginning to show that slow slide long before he was actually diagnosed.

Above: "Katzen 1" by Louis Wain
Below: Louis Wain's images as they are frequently presented in psychology text books.

This is the point where psychologists become interested, and both psychology textbooks and the internet abound with images of Louis Wain's "schizophrenic cats."  Popular history tells us that he believed he was just painting cats until the end of his life.  End of the Game's article, "Schizophrenic Cats," is a good, short read, even if I feel their understanding of schizophrenia is limited.

It's been so wonderful to look at the world that through the eyes of Louis Wain. What he left behind feels like a note from the universe telling me, "You aren't the first person to feel this way, and you won't be the last. He looked into the void and saw this.  Imagine what you can do."

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