Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams

Awakening the heart, mind and soul to art

Vernon's Awakening the Spirit art show and sale celebrates the strengths, talents and creativity of people living with mental illness.

Bruce Adams did his first painting 40 years ago, then life and family responsibilities took his attention and he didn’t paint again for 36 years.

“I saw Renah (Wood) at CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association). She came in with her supply bag of art items and I told her I was interested in the classes,” he said. “It was a challenge when I went to the classes because I knew I wanted to try oil painting, but I didn’t know if I could do it. I always thought that was for the elite.”

He started painting again, mostly doing portraits, often in the style of famous artists or of famous people.

“Elvis is one of my favourites because he has a challenging face to paint, and because I used to do Elvis impersonations,” said Adams, pointing out a self-portrait that started as a picture of Elvis. “It wasn’t going how I wanted, so I drew a mustache on it and changed the eyes.”

His colourful and complicated picture, titled 32nd Street, was chosen for the poster for this year’s Awakening the Spirit art show and sale, which celebrates the strengths, talents and creativity of people living with mental illness.

“I immerse myself into the painting and when the channels in my brain are working, four hours will go by like 10 minutes. I get such a good feeling being able to turn a blank canvas into a painting that people like and that I’m proud of. It was fun doing the painting for the poster. I didn’t know when it was going to stop. I like showing my work and seeing some of it sell. The first time in the show, I was a bit apprehensive, but this is a good chance to show your work and for people to see some work by different artists in the community.”

Some of the other artists whose work is in the show are also Wood’s students while other artists have submitted their work independently.

“Some people are in the show for the first time and others have a lot of experience. The ones who come to classes are usually those who always wanted to try art and maybe thought they couldn’t do it,” said Wood, who named the show, now in its ninth year, because she saw people awakening their spirits and creativity through art.

“When you are focused on art, you are in the spirit of moving your energy. I ask students what they want to do, then I just show them the technique and it’s up to them to express themselves. People find talent they didn’t know they had. I remember one student trying watercolour for the first time who kept saying, ‘I love this. I love this.’ By teaching and helping and giving to others, I find I help myself.”

Marie-France Ladouceur, CMHA activity coordinator, education and support, said, “Any creation, any creative energy helps with the symptoms of anxiety and depression, other mental illness and stress, and clears the mood. We are happy with the response to the show.”

The show is open not just to CMHA members but to anybody who is living with mental illness. Artists are invited to think now about taking part in the show next year.

“We welcome submissions,” said Dianne Hustler, family support coordinator, Mental Illness Family Support Centre.

According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is the number one cause of disability in the world. One in five people will have a mental illness at some time in their lives, but only one-third seek treatment, often because of the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness.

The Awakening the Spirit art show and sale is sponsored by the Mental Illness Family Support Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association, with grateful acknowledgement of the support of the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. The show and sale features paintings in a variety of mediums, as well as photography, sculpture and carving.

Awakening the Spirit opens Tuesday and continues to Sept. 19 at the Coat Check Gallery in the lower lobby of the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. The gallery is open to performance patrons during events at the centre. There are free public viewings from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays starting Aug. 16. Viewings can also be done by special arrangement by calling Sue at 250-542-3114 or email