Healing Through Art

Mental Health Awareness Digital Exhibit

In this exhibit artists of all ages showcase work reflecting their mental health experiences broadly defined, both challenges and resiliency. Our hope is that sharing these works will be therapeutic for both the artists and viewers.

Hope by a Thread by Jupiter

I paint
To make the pain fade
I wanted to disappear
I didn’t want to feel
I painted and painted until I was able to fade away, into another world where everything was perfectly blissful and beautiful
This became the way into Jupiter
Colorful emotion scars

Robe a la Anxiety by Genevieve McCormick
crushed taffeta, soft netting fabric, fabric and acrylic paint, and glass beads, 2019

Robe a la Anxiety draws inspiration from self-harm and Rococo fashion. This era was chosen since it was notorious for beheading and extravagance. The gown is made in a light pink fabric to slightly mimic skin without being an actual skin tone. The bottom of the gown is dyed a dark red to resemble pooling blood. The beading on the gown is contained to the bodice and sleeves. These bead strands resemble blood running from the wrist area.

Schizo by Genevieve McCormick
sheer fabric, found objects, jewelry wire, fabric and acrylic paint, 2019

Schizo is a piece that at first glance seems just beautiful, but upon closer observation its meaning is revealed. Schizo is a gown with the skirt hand painted with unnerving forms, hands, faces, and animal mouths. Schizophrenia has a sister diagnosis known as schizoid personality disorder which is accompanied by a lack of desire for close relationships, little to no sex drive, detachment of emotions, avoidance and social isolation. Constant isolation and detachment are what prompted this disorder as something I have been diagnosed with by multiple psychologists.

Despair by Alston Cobourn
charcoal, ash, and watercolor, 2019
Depression by Alston Cobourn
oil, dry pastel, and broken glass, 2019

For me, “Despair” is frequently the second stage of grief, coming after anger that often manifests as a desire to figuratively set my entire life on fire. Therefore, I depicted the feeling of despair as the charred, bottomless emptiness that is left after everything has burned. The spots of red watercolor represent droplets of blood. There is no light in despair.

The feeling of despair then settles into the state of “Depression,” which I often think of as a quiet sadness that just hangs around like a cloak or a veil. I used several shades of blue paint to mimic how a bruise fades from darker to lighter during the often lengthy healing process. I incorporated pieces of broken glass because depression can still be poignant and sharp at times even though it is calmer overall. Light is peaking through in depression but is still muffled by the dark.

Polar Opposites by Jordan Elliker
digital artwork, 2018

With this piece I wanted to express the effect that fear and anxiety can have on the human psyche. In times when we have access to any info it’s easy to get caught up in feeding off of fear and worry when sometimes it may be the healthiest to unplug and reconnect with nature.”.

On the Borderline by Dean LeStrange
charcoal, 2019

Description of Splitting: Like I’m watching my body move without my consent, my mind feels hazy. From the outside looking in I watch myself say and do things that seem like me, but everything feels just a little off. I can’t feel what I’m feeling, I don’t know what anyone’s saying. Words sound like cloudy whispers and nothing makes sense. Auto-pilot and I’m aware of it to a certain extent, but I can’t come back. Why can’t I bring myself back? Sometimes other people can enter what feels like the realm I’ve been trapped in and take my hand to bring me back to what everyone else sees as reality. Other times I’m screaming “NO,” “please no, anything but that”. Self destruction can’t be self destruction if I’m not in control of what I’m doing. If I can see myself breaking down the fabric of my life, but I can do nothing but scream inside these walls for it to stop while my mouth makes no sound, of what use am I, really? I’m half of a person at one point in time. At another I’m more than I can allow myself to be. Who am I? Who are you? Are you real? I’m not real, nothing’s real. Sleep, maybe I’ll wake up and be me tomorrow.

My Anxiety by Lauren Hodgson
watercolor, 2019

This piece of artwork is used to visualize what it is like when I have anxiety attacks. It helps me to show people how I feel and what I’m experiencing.


James Carleton Nelson (1997-2019) was born in Colorado and grew up in Greenville, NC. In middle school James became especially interested in creating computer games, and he founded a game design club in high school. Later, James developed a love for encaustic painting while studying art at Pitt Community College, creating more paintings in the following years. He also studied criminal justice at PCC before moving on to UNCG as a physics major in Spring 2018.

Since he was a very young child, James rejected diagnoses but courageously struggled with obvious anxiety and depression. He had joyful times as well. At UNCG, he was active with the Outdoor Adventures program. These weekends were profoundly enriching for James: he joined groups of UNCG students who explored some of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes as they hiked, skied, climbed, caved, and kayaked together.

Nevertheless, on May 9, 2019, James ended his life. He chose not to reach out to any of his family members about his intentions or the depths of his despair. We are heart-broken and we miss him every day. But in the midst of our brokenness we remember with love his creative talents, his sense of humor and conversation, his courage, and most of all the precious time we had with him.

Untitled #2 photo by James Nelson
photograph, 2003
Untitled #4 by James Nelson
encaustic painting, between 2016-2019
Untitled #2 by James Nelson
encaustic painting, 2019
Untitled #9 by James Nelson
encaustic painting, between 2016-2019
Waltz by James Nelson
encaustic painting, between 2016-2019
Clair de Lune by James Nelson
encaustic painting, between 2016-2019

James loved every kind of art.  The thought of expressing himself through the various mediums excited him.  Working with wax became a special joy.  He never tired of talking about it or describing something he was doing.
-Trudi Nelson, paternal grandmother

James gave us a tour of campus; he was most enthusiastic at his art classroom. James didn’t share feelings easily.  I see hints of being lost in two untitled pieces: one showing a walk without beginning and without end, and another showing an outer row of white spots to inner chaos.  James did discover joy in the natural world, I’m glad.  Peace and Love. 
-Gramps, aka David H. Nelson, paternal grandfather

Encaustic painting is a difficult medium. It is filtered bee’s wax with the addition of colored pigments. One must be interested in this medium to excel because it takes time to learn. James Nelson wanted to learn the encaustic method. This selection shows his early talent in photography and his encaustic paintings show how much he loved color, design forms, and best of all, composition.
-Shirlee Riley, maternal grandmother>

James had just turned six and was on his way to kindergarten. His anxiety seemed to disappear when I gave him a disposable camera and he took pictures while we walked as a family to his school. His photo of Fifth Street in Greenville, NC shows the viewpoint of a child looking backward, away from school and toward a vanishing point in the distance. Later, as a 22-year old, he created an encaustic painting of his photograph from 16 years before. Since he died I’ve been at war with time, but there are brief moments of truce in my memory where time stands still. One was in January 2019, when I watched his joy as he completed this and other encaustic works. All the rest of his encaustics are abstracts, full of light and color, play and experimentation.
-Jocelyn Nelson, mother

His was a life of struggle. He sought joy and satisfaction that he was unable to claim as his own. His art and the outdoors provided solace that otherwise eluded him.
-Dave Nelson, father

James was an amazing artist, brother, and friend. The process of creating encaustic art is challenging, but as with nearly any challenge James encountered, he made it his mission to master it. He succeeded in making many beautiful pieces that demonstrated his skill and talent, just like he succeeded at overcoming many other challenges throughout his life. We are left now not just with the pain of losing him, but also with the gift of our memories of him, along with the gift of his art that we are honored to share with you.
-Elizabeth Nelson, sister

After the Winter by Sarah Chrismon
watercolor, 2019

Out of pain comes beauty.

Hanging by a Thread by Reagan Herndon
Digitally Enhanced Silver Point, 2019
Guarded by Benton Lovett
Acrylic paint, 2020

I was dealing with a lot of stuff going on in my head and that led to me be hesitant with everything. This made me realize that I was guarding my heart and wasn’t allowing myself to open up to anyone or anything.

Rural Homelessness: Art as Activism

The Photovoice exhibit, held at the Turnage Theater in Washington, NC during the month of June 2019, addressed issues of poverty and homelessness in Washington, North Carolina. It’s goal was to use perceptions of the aging homeless population in rural eastern North Carolina. Through a partnership with East Carolina University and five community partners, we are using Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) data to understand the physical and mental health of the homeless population. Photovoice is a type CBPR data. The initial data sources for the project were the photos taken by the participants and their individual interpretation of their own photos using narrative expression. The Photovoice technique put cameras in to the hands of community participants and empowered them to guide data collection efforts by documenting their observations about various phenomena through photography and developing narratives about the photographs. Building on feminist theory, Photovoice sought to empower community members to be the “experts” of their own lives and experiences, and it treats participants as co-investigators rather than the subjects of research.

Photograph by Jonathan Gaskins
Homeless Living Room by Will Aley
Photograph, 2019

When you don’t have a place to go and relax, like your favorite chair or sofa, a public bench can be inviting. Think about where you would go if you didn’t have a home.

Revolutionary Mindlessness by David Cicerone
Mixed media
Cosmic Laughingstock by David Cicerone
Multi Color Drawing
Muskateer Tsunami by David Cicerone
Multi Color Drawing
Subsaharan Freeze By David Cicerone
Multi Color Drawing

These drawings were done while living abroad in China. They incorporate a wide variety of materials ranging from crayon to watercolor, influenced mostly by Outsider artists such as Martin Ramirez and Henry Darger.

The Blue of Distance by Darlene Williams 2020
Mixed Media 9″x 11″

The Blue of Distance, “the world is blue at it’s edges and it’s depths, this blue is the light that got lost.” R. Solnit I am drawn to blue, figuratively and literally, I am searching for the light. My life’s turns, ups and downs are encompassed in this search.

Primal Screams and Future Dreams by Darlene Williams 2020
Quilted watercolor with charcoal 9″x 11″

The separation of colors and brainwave lines from screams to dreams narrate my life trauma of my divorce devastating me and how through time, a long time, my recovery healed much of the trauma.

Lost Love Letters by Darlene Williams 2020
Recycled Metal Wire with Paper 10″x 12″

Loves lost are the most painful emotion I have ever felt, to lose your compass which guides your life, belief’s, past, future.