Artist with mental illness featured in healing art show

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, September 28, 2013

JANESVILLE--Carole Kies walked through her living room and up the stairway as she pointed out the pen and ink drawings on the wall by her son Daniel.

In his distinctive style, Daniel sketched trumpet jazz player Miles Davis, mourners at a funeral and a woman in a pith helmet.

“It takes a while to take it all in,” Carole said, pausing by each piece. “You can't look at Daniel's art without having an emotional response.”

Little by little, Carole is framing her son's prolific work. She hadn't seen much of it until after his death two years ago.

Now, Carole of Janesville is thrilled that others will see it, as well.

Three of Daniel's drawings are in the annual Healing Art Show, sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Wisconsin. The Madison show features local artists who have experienced mental illness. Daniel was diagnosed with a cruel brain disorder known as schizophrenia and is one of six featured artists.

“His struggles are evident in his very provocative drawings,” Carole said.

One of Daniel's pieces is described by Carole as a self portrait, showing a pensive-eyed man who is changing into a fish. Daniel's work will be on display through October at Madison's Crescendo Café on Monroe Street.

Julianne Carbin, executive director of NAMI Wisconsin, hopes the art by Daniel and others will spark important conversations.

“The best way to change our stereotypes about people with mental illnesses is to talk to people who have mental illnesses,” Carbin said. “Having a conversation is really the best way to put down the stigma.”

With the exception of Daniel, the artists will be at an opening reception Friday, Oct. 4. The reception is part of Gallery Night, sponsored by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Many of us personally experience mental illness, or we have friends or family with mental illnesses,” Carbin said. “This is a way to celebrate their talents and to react with people who have mental illnesses in a positive way.”

One in four adults experience mental health problems in any given year, but stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help, she said. Consequently, less than one-third of adults and less than half of children with diagnosed illnesses get treatment.

For the last 11 years of his life, Daniel struggled with mental illness.

He graduated from Craig High School in 1994, began his study of art at UW-Rock County and continued at UW-Madison. Influenced by artist John Wilde Sr., Daniel wanted to be an art teacher.

From 1995 to 1999, he created his art in pen and ink, charcoal and silverpoint.

By 2000, Daniel's mental health declined, and he was unable to sketch.

He quit school, left the love of his life and moved to northern California. He called home and told his mother that he was getting special messages from the radio and the FBI was after him.

Eventually, Daniel returned to Wisconsin, was admitted to University Hospital, Madison, and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The serious disease interferes with a person's ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. Research has linked it to changes in brain chemistry and structure.

In 2007, Daniel attempted suicide. Later, he took anti-psychotic medicine, which stabilized his disease.

“It's not an easy voyage to try and get a person medical and psychiatric help,” Carole said. “There was a lot of in and out of the hospital and a lot of Daniel taking his medicine and not taking his medicine. Eventually, he got on medicine that helped him.”

Before her son died, Carole spent a long weekend with him at her home. When she took him back to his apartment, Daniel called her almost every hour.

“I didn't get impatient with him,” she said. “It had happened before. He was just so lonesome. He wanted to talk.”

Multiple substances were found in Daniel's system, including heroin, alcohol and his anti-psychotic medicine, when he died in February 2011 at age 34.

Daniel's older brother, Ian, who struggled with an anxiety disorder, had died two years earlier.

“Daniel really missed him,” Carole said. “They were close.”

With the death of two sons, Carole's loss is profound. But she believes talking about Daniel will help erase the stigma of mental illness.

“I refuse to be ashamed that my children had mental illnesses,” Carole said. “We are not ashamed to say when someone has diabetes or cancer. Yet mental illness is so stigmatized. It is so wrong.”

She has found support and education through NAMI chapters in Dane and Rock counties. Carole said Daniel would be proud to know his work is in the Healing Art Show. It is not the first time his art has been shown publicly. Last year, Daniel's drawings were featured in a show at Raven's Wish gallery in downtown Janesville.

“His work is amazing,” said Alicia Reid, gallery owner. “The subject matter gives me goose bumps. It's very emotional. I'm at a loss for words.”

Carole is inspired by Daniel's art and wonders aloud if she will run out of wall space in her home to hang it.

She advocates on behalf of people with mental illness.

“They are human beings who need to be supported and loved,” Carole said. “They also need to know that they are valued.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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