AUGUSTA, Maine — Artists in Maine dealing with mental health issues have a new tool to aid them in creativity and livelihood. The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI Maine, recently launched R.O.A.R. — the Real Outsider Art Rental program.
“It’s very new,” said NAMI Maine Development Director Larraine Brown. “We’re working with artists from all over the state, artists who are consumers of mental health services.” So far, she said, 55 artists take part in the program designed to put money directly into the pockets of the artists by offering their work for rent at $15 per month. The art also is available for purchase. “The artists tackle all sorts of subjects, portraits, landscapes, animals and emotional conditions,” she said.
Outsider art is defined as art created outside the boundaries of official culture, often self-taught and with little or no contact with art institutions. It is art that deals honestly with human frailty, strength and universal obstacles, Brown said.
“Art requires that one look at a subject in a different way. Mental illness forces one to look at life in a different way. Both require a fresh mind, an open mind,” Brown said. “R.O.A.R. is a way to introduce art lovers to the artists and their work, and the public to NAMI Maine’s programs and projects.”
Artist Valerie Porter, 48, has embraced the R.O.A. R. program.
“There is lots of isolation in mental illness,” she said. “R.O.A.R. is making an opportunity for people. It’s another conduit for artists. It gives me a chance to show my work. The most important thing to me is sharing my voice visually. It’s what I love, it’s my passion. Art is a way to connect with the world.”
When she became seriously affected by mental health issues in the mid-1990s, she made up her mind that, “no matter what, my goal was to keep doing art.”
It’s a goal she has achieved with the help of medication and a strong connection to her creative spirit.
Porter said she is a sculptor at heart, but has no space for doing that kind of art. Instead, she tries to put sculptural elements into her paintings, some of which measure 4 feet by 5 feet.
“I start with materials. I look at it to see what it is I see in it. The materials come from the Dollar Store — shopping bags with pictures on them, tissue paper, party supplies, note cards — I start gluing things to the canvas, then I start to paint. Sometimes the objects show, sometimes not.” This collage technique, she said, gives her work texture and dimension. Ships and the ocean often are subjects of her work.
Not all of Porter’s work employs the collage technique, including “Persian Horses,” a drawing and watercolor she painted several years ago. “I used to ride horses — dressage,” she said. “I first became ill when I was in college in the 1980s, and I had to sell my horse. It was a very painful experience. ‘Persian Horses’ was the first time I’d put horses in my drawing.”
“It would be awesome to sculpt again,” Porter said. She is interested in the process of sculpting with steel. “I’d put nature with it, logs and stones. There is so much energy in a rock.” Porter said she would like to find buyers for her work and hopes the R.O.A.R. program will afford that opportunity.
“I am a huge supporter of NAMI. It’s a great resource for families and parents. I want to help NAMI become more public. NAMI has done so much for me, it makes me want to do more,” she said.
The R.O.A.R. program is a way for those receiving mental health services to have art as a vocation, said Carol Carothers, NAMI Maine executive director.
“So many things about mental illness can be life impairing or life stopping, but making art is just the opposite of that,” she said. Shalom House in Portland, Community Counseling Service Inc. in York, and Motivational Services, which includes LINC Club in Augusta and the Waterville Social Club, all have art programs, and many of the R.O.A.R. artists are affiliated with those agencies, she said.
“We have fabulous art, but not all of it is framed,” Carothers said. “R.O.A.R. has no funding. It’s a work of true devotion.”
Brown said the program would welcome donations of frames, matte board and other materials associated with framing.
A slide show of the art is now available to be shown in banks, businesses and other public places in order to let the public know the art is available for rent or purchase. Any business or public venue wishing to provide space to display the slide show may contact Brown at 622-5767 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To view the art, go to flickr.com/photos/roarnamimaine.