Spartanburg artist explores mental illness, including his own
‘It’s okay to say mental illness.’
Spartanburg artist Bailie will debut his latest body of work—In The Midst of a Trauma, an extensive collection that probes the minds of people with mental illnesses—May 4-29 at Artists Collective | Spartanburg.
“After suffering through a mental block and finding help through therapy, I’ve spent the past two years working on this exhibit,” the one-name artist said. “I’m telling everyone that ‘It’s okay to say mental illness.’ That phrase or slogan is my mantra, and I want to bring mental illness out of the dark and explore it in a way that people can come to understand that we all have problems, that we all need a little help from time to time, that we can do better and even thrive.”
This multifaceted exhibition includes photography, paintings, multimedia sculptures, video, and creations that defy definition. To create much of this exhibition, Bailie worked with his therapist to interview five people diagnosed with various mental health problems, such as split personalities and manic depression. From those interviews he created six encaustic wax photographs (including one of himself) that depict the person’s mental health.
Also, he asked each person to describe his or her worst state of mental health, and from those descriptions, he made six sculptures, including one about his own state of mind. When the photography and sculptures are exhibited, they will be accompanied by the actual questions and answers. All but one person will use his or her real name.
“It takes true bravery to put your mental health problems on display for the world to see,” Bailie said. “However, speaking from experience, it is also freeing. It’s like telling the world you are not ashamed. In most cases, people with cancer are not ashamed. Or people with diabetes. Or people with COVID-19. Mental health problems are really no different than physical health problems. If you have a problem, get help, and live your life!”
In addition, Bailie will display Scribble Man, a sculpture of a man’s upper body made of wire; a video of an animated white figure crab-walking backward as the body is torn apart and blown away; and a plexiglass box full of pill bottles that represent the many type of mental illnesses and the drugs used to treat them.
To give people insight into his own state of mental health, Bailie has painted several large canvases that depict times in his life that he either struggled with mental illness, looked for answers, and accepted the cards that life had dealt him. In what is probably the most telling creation, Bailie has painted a profile self-portrait that shows him in deep contemplation, emerging from darkness into light.
“That painting has more story behind it than what the average patron might get to know,” Bailie said. “Originally, the painting was done about 10 years ago, right after my parents died within two weeks of each other. To say the least, that was a hard time for me. I painted a dark picture with an anguished and agonized face in the center. It was pretty disturbing. To make it even more personal, I had mixed some of my parents’ cremation ashes into the paints that I used.
“After going through therapy and discovering some repressed memories about my family, I had to express myself in the most profound way I could,” Bailie continued. “So, I painted over that picture with my self-portrait, a picture that shows me finally coming to grips with why I felt so angry, so hurt, so damaged. Behind my exterior, there are some dark things. But I recognize them. I deal with them. I am passed them. I’m okay.”
Establishing professional credibility for this exhibit, Bailie has received both moral and financial support, including that of Mental Health America of Spartanburg, The Carolina Center for Behavioral Health, the Phifer-Johnson Foundation (a family foundation based in Spartanburg that gives primarily to the arts, education, health and human services), and various unnamed individuals.
In the Midst of a Trauma will open for public viewing Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning May 4. Free. A free and public reception will be held Thursday, May 20, 6-9 p.m., during Spartanburg’s monthly ArtWalk, now returning to its regular third Thursday schedule.