Social issues

Breaking Down the Break Down: Ruby Smedley’s Art and Mental Health

By Elyse Simich

14242476_308202616220565_32923605042781929_oRuby Smedley’s solo exhibition, Isolation, begins on September 30. “Isolation is an exhibition that is focused on mental health. The whole premise behind it is to be able to use the exhibition as a gateway conversation, for people to be able to talk and express themselves about mental illness and just to remove the silence and the stigma that seems to surround it,” she said.

The aim of Isolation is to raise money for the Joondalup Headspace Centre. Ruby said this is a way people can be involved in the exhibition. “There is a Kickstarter campaign, and a proportion of all the paintings sold will be going to Headspace in Joondalup. I think they’re a really great organisation; they’re not-for-profit and 100 per cent of their donations go into specific programs. None of it goes to admin costs or paperwork or anything like that.”

She said she believes mental health is so important because nearly everyone seems to know someone who has a mental illness. “Just looking at the statistics of mental health and why they seem to be so high in Australia. 45 per cent of the adult population will have experienced mental illness at some point in their lives. And especially in WA, it seems to be that all the statistics are a lot higher. The suicide rate is 22 per cent higher in Western Australia and it’s higher again within the Kimberly [region], so it’s pretty crazy. I just think its something really important — it’s on the rise. I think no one talks about it enough; I think I’m guilty of that as well.  Nobody communicates it very well or can express their feelings and it seems like a taboo thing.”

The exhibition is supposed to blur the lines between mediums to confront and examine the effects of mental illness. She wants to recreate as many symptoms in physical manifestations as possible, and will be looking particularly at isolation, body dysmorphia, obsessive behaviour, changes in appearance, and sleeping and eating habits.

12734031_176578376049657_5455435081864622434_nRuby will spend the first week of her exhibition removed from all social contact while she creates her art, as she explores the idea of feeling isolated. She will examine obsessive behaviours by painting only one subject: herself. She won’t have access to the luxuries of daily life or the things she usually uses in her creative process, including coffee, a change of clothes, a shower or music. This will replicate these routines falling to the wayside as mental illness escalates in severity. She also won’t have access to a clock, so her eating and sleeping habits are expected to change. She will shave her head to represent body dysmorphia.

“The whole idea is to make it quite challenging and to put yourself in a different situation,” she said. The art she will be creating will be focused on the emotions she is feeling at the time.

There will be viewing windows in the walls and windows of the gallery, so people can watch her work. “Next Friday is my first day in there and my head will be shaved the night before. I will go in and everything will be fresh and new. All the canvases and all the paper and all the materials will be in [the gallery], as well as my food. And I will be spending a minimum of fourteen hours a day in there, and I will be drawing and painting everything that is on the walls,” Ruby said.

After the initial week where she creates her art, the exhibition will have its opening night on October 7. “Everyone will be able to walk in and experience the environment and also see the art as well,” she said.

Ruby is a self-taught artist and her preferred styles are portraiture and figurative painting. She sums up the style of painting we’ll be seeing in her exhibition as: expressive portraiture. “It’s pretty expressive, so loose painted brush strokes, and lots of charcoal notations. I guess charcoal is the first stage, where it’s all drafted out and I keep making notes in charcoal, which sometimes cuts through into the painting.”

Ruby said she hopes that everyone who comes to see the exhibition will get the emotional aspects from it. “Maybe a friend who’s concerned about someone else can come and use this exhibition like a gateway conversation. By me, putting myself in a challenging position, [I hope] to make people feel comfortable enough to say ‘I’m not okay,’ or ‘I need help,’ or ‘I’m getting help and I thought you should know.’”

Every piece of artwork will be for sale when the gallery opens on Friday October 7.  The exhibition will run from September 30 – October 10 in the Northbridge Piazza.

Images by Ruby Smedley



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