Gina Love's Art and Mental Health
I’ve always created: sewing, drawing, writing, photography. Here’s a photo of me back in the 80’s.
After I had my first breakdown at 17 (years of bullying and an eating disorder took its toll), I was in a complete mess and could barely get out of bed. I then dropped out of my Media Studies course at university and abandoned my dream of working in TV. I had hit rock bottom again and was doing a few shifts in my local supermarket.
I knew I was a mess but I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. It was really hard to quantify my existence in the world. I felt so worthless. Nothing helped and I was just permanently trying to reason with myself and the inner voices.
I first started painting back in 1999.
I enrolled in an Art Foundation course and spent the summer drawing; getting my portfolio together. This particular course is conducted by rotate subjects and picking a specialism after. I was pretty set on wanting to be an illustrator or fashion designer, but then we had the “Fine Art Week” that literally changed my life.
The first abstract painting I created was actually playing it pretty safe. I painted different lines and shades of red/orange/yellow using oil paint. It was unimaginative, boring, flat, it was safe. It looked like everybody else’s work. It didn’t feel enough. I then went to the Tate and came across Tracey Emins Turner Prize work. This opened my eyes to a new world of self expression.
I realized that I needed to physically feel the painting, so I took my canvas off the easel, turned it on it’s side, and chucked varnish on it with more paint. Then it became more apocalyptic, and reflective of my mood. This free way of working has stayed with me. Canvases still end up on the floor all the time.
But how did that particular incident back in the 90s help me? I realized I needed a complete release from everything and all the patterns of thinking and behaviour I’d developed in my life. So, I became a painter using charcoal and inks.
The way I paint has changed over the years, but my studio practice still allows me to deal with my thinking patterns and completely lose myself. Through creativity you can become youthful and raw. You feel anything is possible. You take risks, make mistakes, and start again without having to explain yourself.
I wish I could say that 19-year-old me recovered quickly and never crashed and burned again, but of course, it isn’t that simple. I found some comfort in Britpop music (Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, etc.) and poetry and worked on a lot of painting and writing, eventually studying fine art at university. I thought that would solve everything, but I wasn’t seeking professional help. I had no chance.
Untitled Freeflow Writing (2000).
I’m on an imaginary journey and I wonder how far I can push.
How much do I want to get out.
Take me away and there could be power.
Change my name, change my face, and I’ll be gone forever.
Gina Love is a British artist and Pink Things contributor writing about mental health and art.