Artist paints picture of humanity of those with mental illness

NORTH BRUNSWICK – Kate Gregory said she has always had creativity running through her veins.

“From a formal standpoint, I have four years of ceramics experience behind me, as well as a few years of painting, drawing, printmaking and graphic design experience. I’m currently a Studio Art major at Georgetown University, planning on concentrating in Photography, Graphics, and New Media, but I don’t think my art will ever be constrained to one medium since I fall in love with every one I try,” she said.

She translated her creative talents into designing a mural for the inside of the NAMI-NJ headquarters in North Brunswick, since she said mental illness is “no stranger to [her] family,” and will assist in painting the 8-foot by 11.5-foot mural by May 18, the date of NAMI’s open house.

“[In] the past, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) has been both a resource and a way in which to give back to the community. I still remember participating in NAMI walks as a young girl well before I truly understood the specifics of the goals NAMI pushes towards. Now, NAMI holds a special place in my heart because of their message and the generous support they have given my family,” she said.

Gregory said she decided to enter the contest “because I thought it would be an amazing way to help in the effort to destigmatize mental illness. The societal view that individuals with mental health issues are somehow ‘crazy’ or ‘threatening’ is unfortunately still prevalent, which is an awful and just plain inaccurate generalization of a huge population. I wanted to paint a picture, no pun intended, that reflects the humanity in that population’s struggle, but also the really beautiful way in which communities come together to support it.”

Specifically, she said she was “inspired by NAMI’s cohesive strategies to alter the social landscape so that individual with mental illnesses are included, supported and aided by others, so I decided to utilize basic shapes and a simple color scheme that come together in a sort of puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle makes little sense in isolation, but when combined with other pieces it comes to represent the inner workings of NAMI itself, the volunteers, the policy makers, the educators, the phone operators, and the doctors and board members. I also chose to construct my color scheme in a way that leaves the composition open for interpretation by the viewer; because there are no specific ages or races depicted in the design, viewers can more easily spot themselves within it. Any individual can volunteer, advocate, or educate, so I worked to represent roles rather than specific types of individuals within the mural.”

Gregory said the conceptualization of what she wanted to do took more time than completing the sketch for the contest.

“That’s always the most difficult part for me, coming up with an idea that’s actually worth putting my skills toward. It took me a few days to finish and adjust the sketch once I got a good grip on the idea I wanted to work with, but I can’t discount the help of the criticism of a few close friends and family members. I never really consider my work fully perfected if it’s not road-tested, so to speak,” she said.

She said the plan is to transfer the design onto the wall with graphite transfer paper.

“After the basic design is transferred, it’s all a matter of painting in inside the lines, almost like a paint-by-number painting, but just a smidge larger. I’ve set aside 70 to 80 hours for the project, and I’m hoping to get it done a little bit faster. But, this is the biggest piece I’ve done so far, so I’m factoring in time for hiccups. There’s a small chance I might be enlisting help from my best friend who has extensive experience with house painting, but most likely I’ll be painting on my own for this one,” she said.

Gregory said she is pleased her work is going to be a lasting part of an organization she cares about because it means her message really resonated with NAMI.

“Some artists I know get a big kick out of getting their art out into the world because they feel like it means they’re on the road to fame and fortune, but I’d rather not make a dime and bring a smile to someone’s day than make work I’m not proud of for profit. And honestly, I’m proud to have my name associated with NAMI,” she said.

NAMI-NJ will hold its open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 18 at its North Brunswick headquarters, 1562 Route 130, behind Chase Bank.

Meet the team, learn about programs, tour the facility, see the unveiling of the mural, enter a raffle and join the NAMIWalks Rally.

Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP by May 11 by visiting www.naminj.org/open-house.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.