The Fort Washington Library will be participating in the Uptown Arts Stroll as a venue for work by local artists. One of the artists displaying her work is Joan Wesley Usher. She is a multi-disciplinary artist and mental health professional based in New York. We asked her a few questions about her work.
Mandala by Joan Wesley UsherTell us about how you incorporate painting into your clinical practice?
One of my first visual art projects out of graduate school at NYU was at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The project was the inspiration of staff in their SAVI program and Emergency Services department. They had done research and discovered that certain kinds of artwork (nature-based) contributed positively to the healing process. They commissioned me to produce a series of nature-based murals for acute care areas of the hospital. Shortly after that project I began working for a New York mental health agency and developed a series of projects that used art as part of the group therapy process. Those clients did a variety of work—individual and group paintings, mask-building, paper sculpture. There were also community art exhibitions which provided the client-artists an opportunity to talk about their work with the public and the media.
How does painting help people who are struggling with mental illness?
Art helps with the management of the chronic symptoms of mental illness. Through art clients communicate feelings that they might have difficulty expressing due to illness or the effects of medication. But it is more than that. Mental illness can isolate. Art creates bridges. For example, because many of the projects that we did were group work—sometimes up to fifty artists might participate in a particular painting—the clients developed strong collaboration skills and a sense of community within the group.
Can you tell us about your work that is on display at the Fort Washington Library during the Art Stroll?
I have been experimenting with color for the past six months and these works reflect that work. I like doing expressionistic work but many of my paintings feature marsh scenes. It's surprising to me that the marsh keeps showing up but I grew up on the coastal waterways of Georgia and have spent a good deal of time on the west coast of Ireland. I also now live near the nature preserve in Inwood Hill Park and go to the lake/marsh area quite often. There is something vibrant and complex about a marsh—very full of life.
Tell us about your workshop "Color of Hope" at the Fort Washington Library on June 29, at 2 p.m.
The workshop will be about hope—I'll talk about some of the mythological stories surrounding hope and also a little bit about its psychology. But the center of the workshop is going to be the story of the wonderful French artist Odilon Redon. He went through a traumatic life crisis in midlife and his recovery from that is reflected beautifully and dramatically in his art. It's an inspiring story about loss and the recovery of hope. The workshop will also provide an opportunity to create a small piece of poetry or art to take home.