New Canaan art exhibit promotes mental health and substance abuse discussions

Art’s role in building a healthy community is at the center of the Silvermine Art Center’s exhibition, “HeART & Mind,” on view Oct. 31 through Jan. 12, exploring art’s healing power and acting as a catalyst for conversations on mental health and substance abuse issues. On Sunday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m., Silvermine in New Canaan hosts an opening reception and keynote lecture by Cheryl Bundy, chaplain and spiritual counselor at Silver Hill Hospital. The lecture is one of many community programs and workshops in visual thinking, art, music and dance therapy offered in conjunction with the exhibition.

“We believe that creativity can nurture and sustain lives worth living and we are emphasizing the fact that this is an art exhibition putting together works by an exceptionally talented array of artists,” said Robin Jaffee Frank, director of the Silvermine Arts Center. The artists’ work helps both artist and viewer to understand themselves and engage in a more authentic way with others, she noted. “Not only does making art help us express our feelings and communicate and heal us but also by coming together to look at art, we encourage our visitors to explore their feelings, perception and imagination in response to works of art.”

Dealing with a variety of mental health issues, including trauma, anxiety and grief, the artists here are represented with works — ranging from photographs and mixed media paintings to sculpture — that express deeply personal issues they are processing. Yet, their art immediately resonates with many viewers.

“Robin and I selected works that express cognitive, emotional and compassionate empathy in dealing with the overall themes of this exhibit,” said gallery director Roger Mudre, who curated the exhibition. “Each of the works chosen expresses the artist’s private journey and touch us all with their universal messages.”

Sculptor Susan Clinard and mixed-media artist Barbara Ringer delve into trauma, memory and recovery with their works. Artist Inez Andrucyk uses art as a lifeline to cope with grief after her son died from an opioid overdose. “Hope is born from the remembrance, joy and appreciation for all we have been given and what we have lost,” Andrucyk wrote. “Rebirth is the development of new ideas and habits, while artmaking is a process towards renewal.” Jay Petrow’s paintings reflect his struggle to share his emotions and experiences as a parent of a child with autism while South African artist Tsoku Maela explores the stigma of mental illness in the black community through his photographs.

“In society, we march for all types of illnesses and speak openly about them without prejudice or judgment,” Maela writes in his artist’s statement. “I think it’s time we spoke openly about anxiety, depression and mental illnesses too, without condemnation or belittling each other. We are all going through something, but you do not have to go through it alone. This body of work is a result of going to places I hate the most about myself and finding beauty there.”

For this exhibition, Janine Brown has created a fully immersive installation, “The Wallflower at the Dance,” showing what isolation and life is often like for introverted people. “When audiences enter the installation, I want them to feel what it might be like for an introverted person at a dance or in any public setting,” Brown said. “I hope that when they leave, the feelings that they have inside the room will perhaps bring understanding to the challenges that face people who are not extroverted or people who might feel isolated.”

Her installation of yarn, wire, wallpaper and mesh brings the “wallflower” to life by creating a surrealistic space in which she dances with the thoughts in her mind as tears hang above her, illustrating the weight of her emotions.

Nash Nyon’s layered encaustic paintings depicting images of spines and lungs share a painful chapter in her life through her husband’s battle with lung cancer, which he ultimately lost. Other battles are equally painful. Veterans created the War is Trauma portfolio in a movement to halt the deployment of traumatized troops and afford service members and veterans the right to heal. One minimalist work says it best with a kneeling toy soldier above the inscription, “There’s no such thing as a toy soldier.”

With one in five adults in the United States reportedly affected by mental health issues and depression on the rise among youth, the Silvermine is tapping into the New Canaan Community Foundation’s community-wide campaign focusing on behavioral health to address oft-taboo conversation topics.

“Our exhibitions are springboards for conversations about socially relevant humanities ideas that affect our neighbors and those they love,” Jaffee Frank said.

The Silvermine Arts Center is located at 1037 Silvermine Road. For information, call 203-9669700, ext. 20, or visit