This week Behind the Mic features part four of Chronically Creative; a series about working with chronic illness. Today we meet David Sandum, a fine art painter and depression survivor. David speaks with us about finding art while institutionalized; the use of color while working through depression; and finding healing through art. David, step right up.
My Strange New Looking Bed and Nailed to the Wall Picture
David Sandum, 2001. Used by permission of the artist.
It was there I started to draw - in my room, alone and confused. Many therapists at the time asked if I took drugs, had an alcohol problem or any other addictions, saying that people with such strong anxiety and depression most often had them. They were always surprised to hear me answer no, but I just drew and painted, even if I didn’t see it clearly then. Yet now I realize I did something constructive with the depressive. Instead of a needle or a bottle, I picked up a pen and eventually the brush. So I am completely self-taught. Art has consumed me since this time, not just because I love art, but as I’ve literally have painted to stay alive, and in it, have found empathy. It’s as simple as that. People could never tell me in words what I went through. But I could see and understand it through Van Gogh’s and Munch’s expressive paintings. It was as if they said: “I know everything around you is chaos. But look at this, I felt the same way.” I have written about this extensively in my memoir (in English). It took me ten years to complete and I hope to get it published someday.
Q: As a colorist, do you notice a shift in tones and color as your depression ebbs or intensifies? Are there particular works of yours that you think illustrate that for us?
I think it’s a myth that depressed artists always paint black or in earth tones, though that can certainly be the case. Just look at Van Gogh’s vibrant yellow and stars, Degas inspiring ballerinas, or Matisse’s decorative color schemes. They were all depressed major portions of their life, but I see their work mainly as uplifting, even though Van Gogh’s early period for example was dark and his portrayals and subject matters often conveyed troubled times. But their colors and subject matters were vibrant. They focused on the energy inside. This is my main philosophy in art, like Matisse said: “I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.”
David Sandum, 2000 Used by permission.
I have certainly painted darker though, and my first few years I painted so dark people often said they wouldn’t be able to have my art on their wall. But now I wonder if that wasn’t just mental: that I just didn’t quite know how to paint yet and to keep my brush clean. Any true artist will know what I mean. But two of my very first paintings were expressive and colorful, and they will always be key to me.
The Law of the Jungle
David Sandum, 2000.
This vibrant and expressive painting was created late one winter’s night in the year 2000. One of my very first paintings, I painted by impulse. I had no idea what would evolve. But soon Darwin’s theory of natural selection came to mind: How the strong survive and the weak eventually become extinct–contemplating that the world is run by people who pressure others to destruction for their own gain (displayed by the evil man in profile to the left, about to crush and grab me with his claw). The “claw man” is trying to stab me; and in many aspects he represented the world as a whole.
Ironically, this painting now hangs in a law office. The lawyer who purchased it has told me it’s his dream to see it in a courtroom.
Q: You recently spent some time in the deserts of the American southwest. People have long gone to the deserts for a cure – for asthma, rheumatism, etc. Did you experiencing a healing energy in the desert — in regards to depression, or in more general terms? How did this change in atmosphere effect your moods and your work?
I don’t think I have found the answer to this just yet (I returned home from the US last night), as I’m not the kind of artist who works entirely on site. Things need to linger in my mind, sometimes for months, and suddenly one day in my studio things will come together. But the strong impressions were definitely there throughout my trip to the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico: the peace, the silence, the beauty of the landscape. No cell phones or computers, just me and the earth. Navajo country, Bryce Canyon in Utah, Sedona in Arizona, and Ghost Ranch New Mexico, were all places of healing. I locked my door to my studio two months ago tired and weak, but have returned filled with thoughts, places, and colors etched in my head. I love the desert and I always will.
To read all the posts in this series click here. Stay tuned next week for another addition of Chronically Creative. Thanks for being here.