Kayla NieMasz

social anxiety

My thesis work has been a culmination of experimental portraiture within the context of mental illness narratives. I chose to work from models, which served as not only a visual reference, but a source of context from which I then drew my narrations. As a psychology major as well as an art major, I worked to incorporate elements of mental illness in my pieces, specifically focusing on the experiences my models describe to me. The visuals are interpreted based on the models’ description of their mental illness, as well as the formal descriptions of that illness objectively. Having personally experienced lifelong mental illnesses as well as having studied them extensively shapes the way I choose to paint the portrait. I originally focused on oil painting, then switched to ink marker and watercolor or oil pastels. The use of line in my more recent images expresses the nuances and complexities of mental health. The paintings are meant to be an open channel of communication where the blanks are filled in by the viewer and their own narrative. Once the imaginative process begins, the viewer has established a unique narrative and perspective that is only a derivative of my original work. Using this method to help others empathize and have an internal dialogue revolving around mental health. Imagination makes my art real, in the sense that viewers personify the faces and then have an experience of empathy or emotion based on their personified interpretation. The realism of my portraits and lines are irrelevant to the true purpose, which is to provide or evoke an experience on the viewer, and this can only be achieved if the viewer is open and connected with their imagination. Viewing art is therefore as much the viewer’s imaginative projection as it is the physical representation.Conceptually, I based much of the process of my thesis on Baudelaire and his specific philosophy of the imaginative process. Baudelaire believed that the way materialism and reality are incorporated into art begins first with the artist experiencing something physically, then interpreting that via their imagination into an internal concept, which they can then strive to express as a similar reconstruction. Visually, I draw inspiration from many artists, specifically Alice Neel, Cecelia Edefalk, and Genieve Figgis. Their interpretations of the human figure resonate with me and my own perception. Specifically Figgis’s use of color and abstraction is a huge inspiration through use of color and anatomical distortions. Although Neel and Edefalk portray completed figures with distinctive features or environments, I draw from the emotive and expressive nature of their paintings. I hope to achieve a similar emotional experience, while maintaining significantly less detail. Figgis’s art highlights the elements of disconnection and fractured reality that I, and many of my models, experienced during heightened moments of mental illness. I hope to incorporate that evocative presence through my incomplete faces and vibrant colors.