• The Solace of Art For An Artist’s Mental Health – Rothko to Van Gough

Above: Sold – ‘Tones II’ by © Laura H Elliott

“It was through social media that I found an interesting article which highlights and discusses the link of artists to mental health issues titled:

“The fraught relationship between creativity and mental health”


This article eloquently raises the discussion of how artists struggles with mental health, past and present manifest in their art, no matter the style or medium. This is a subject close to my heart, as I have struggled for decades with mental health issues.

My art has always been a public representation of my inner self and it has reflected into the choice of colour, style and subject matter in my ‘Landscape Moods Collection’ mixed media paintings, started in 2002. In addition, I have created work from the age of 17, which has presented my life in my art, in all mediums I have explored and studied.”

“It was in 2007 that my artworks turned black and white (shown below), reflecting my complex, life changing, life experiences. These paintings also show a restricted or tense painting technique, emphasized by the black and white tones used.

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The following two photographs show one of my largest black and white paintings, which I later altered. The original is simple tones with a large, ugly, all encompassing rock in the foreground. I later decided to add in a bonfire in the foreground to cover the dull rock and ignite a new energy in my work. I have always thought that by adding the bonfire, it clears and burns the past emotions encapsulated in the original painting. The fire links in my mind of how farmers burn their fields to fertilise and renew the field for future crops. Just like purging the old in favor of the new. I have not painted solely in black and white since these 4 paintings where created in 2007:

The article includes another artist in the examples of the expression of mental health in masters’ work, specifically Rothko.”

“…Shortly before his suicide, Rothko produced one of his final paintings – Untitled, Black on Grey – an indicator of the troubled mind of the artist. Walking into the Rothko room that forms part of the permanent collection at London’s Tate Modern — there is an instant feeling imparted on the viewer. It’s a reminder of the power and aura that artwork can have on us.”

Above: The Rothko Collection at Tate Modern

I personally also had the deepest reaction to at exhibition when I viewed Rothko’s work. It was around 1996, when I walked into the room dedicated to Rothko’s paintings, with high ceilings which is perfect for the artworks displayed. I was faced with an enormous series of paintings by Mark Rothko with lower lighting that presents a ‘mood’ to the room. The works and atmosphere had a profound impact and I needed to sit down.

After a short time, I read the information on the artworks and the pieces were painted during a dark emotional period in Rothko’s life. Certainly, this was what caused be to feel emotional, it was like the artworks and colours swallowed me into his life. I can understand his need to express himself in this manner, something I have in common with artists such as Rothko.

Another artist that most people identify with the link of art and the artists mental health. Often known for the Sunshine filled painting ‘Sunflowers’, his struggles are still known. Van Gough’s monochrome drawings are plentiful and where created intentionally, in order to master black and white drawings before exploring colour within paintings.

Above: ‘Hellibrun’ by Vincent Van Gough

“Largely self-taught, Van Gough believed that drawing was “the root of everything.” His reasons for drawing were numerous. At the outset of his career, he felt it necessary to master black and white before attempting to work in color. Thus, drawings formed an inextricable part of his development as a painter. There were periods when he wished to do nothing but draw. Sometimes, it was a question of economics: the materials he needed to create his drawings—paper and ink purchased at nearby shops and pens he himself cut with a penknife from locally grown reeds—were cheap, whereas costly paints and canvases had to be ordered and shipped from Paris. When the fierce mistral winds made it impossible for him to set up an easel, he found he could draw on sheets of paper tacked securely to board.”


Above: ‘Hellibrun’ by Vincent Van Gough

“It was when I was as a teenager I heard a Picasso Quote, which has always resonated deeply with me:”

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Above: ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso (1937)

“I saw as a young adult the black and white painting above by Pablo Picasso titled ‘Guernica‘. The artwork is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, which he completed in June 1937. It holds a roller coaster ride of resistance, death, passion, anger and historical representation. Truely stunning!

The following article in The Guardian specifically discusses Picasso’s monochrome work in more depth, which can be viewed using the link below:”



Above: ‘The Kiss’ by Picasso

“Below are three artworks which demonstrate how colours develop emotion and mood at the time of creation. These drawings where created from 2002 till 2009, during my studies in ‘Art and Design Access Diploma’ and ‘Art and Media Bachelor of Arts with Honors’:”

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  1. https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/the-fraught-relationship-between-creativity-and-mental-health?utm_source=idfbuk&utm_campaign=global
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/oct/16/picasso-love-affair-monochrome

All artworks & designs displayed are © Copyright by Laura H Elliott BA (Hons), Dip.

Buy my work online @ http://www.lhe-art.co.uk

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