Without Madness, There is no Imagination
By Kurt Joachim von Behrmann
South Mountain Village, Phoenix, Arizona \
In 2016 I had an exhibition at the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix. It was my first solo showing in several years. It was also the first exhibition I had after being diagnosed Bipolar.
2013 marked the start of my life being dependent on therapy, medications and assorted support groups. Nothing was the same afterwards.
The Psychiatrist who diagnosed me asked me a pointed question. “Who are you?” The question was both direct and profound. Without hesitation, I answered, “I am an Artist.” It was my only constant. It was the only thing there when everything else was gone.
Carrie Fisher had said “Turn your broken heart into art.” It summed up where I was creatively. One warm night, it was about 1:30 a.m. in June, I came up with the idea of creating an entire body of work about Bipolar. It was literally an idea out of nowhere.
After deciding to do this, I thought about Dr. Jamison’s book, “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” Being that so many artists and writers have this disorder, I thought that exploring it could be intriguing.
Discussing Bipolar is an arduous task no matter what medium you select to do so. Describing the sensations that accompany it demands an expressive and precise language in art. It requires a certain kind of imagery. My exploration was transforming my work. My art was radically changing.
Ironically, as the work became more personal, it was more accessible. I had not realized the potency of the imagery until a passerby said that the works were powerful. That assessment confirmed my desire to create potent work. I was unware of it being powerful while I was creating it. I was too lost in what I was doing to think about it.
Unknowingly I had found a new strain of creativity to discuss mental illness. I was looking at it from the inside, not from the outside.
Much of my previous work was abstract. Forms, shapes and elusive conceptual art were my themes. When the subject matter became cutting, depression and the duality of moods from high to low, the work was representational. It was turning symbolic. Horses became representations of moods. Eagles became symbols of minds both captive and free.
The one abstract construction I had been working on for years was reconceptualized. Abstract sculptural elements represented individuals and the canvas behind them the society in which they live. When taken as a work about bipolar estrangement, it acquired a new heft. It was no longer universal. It was specific and universal.
Bipolar can be disruptive, unsettling and dangerous. Should the pendulum swing too far into depression or mania, it can be a lethal agent ready to unleash horrors if not watched. As draining and confounding as it is, there is one virtue of this mood disorder.
When the moods are at their most articulate, you can have visions of grandeur that defy description. You can produce ideas a mile a minute. You can see vivid colors and wild imagery. The euphoria, the belief in unlikely dreams being real and the energy they provide is something so precious, so rare, so invaluable, to lose them would be a loss so great I cannot imagine.
For as difficult and unwieldy as bipolar is, for an artist it is the creative engine. It is the heart and soul of art. Without madness, there is no imagination.
“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Aristotle.
“In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” Akira Kurosawa
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“Pferd” by Kurt von Behrmann
acrylic on canvas painting 45” x 28”
I envision bipolar as being a horse racing between two poles. The horse is a portrait of myself, I have deep roots in Kentucky, well known for producing thoroughbreds. The two poles represent the states of mania and depression. The styles that influenced this work come from Germany, Italy and France.
“Toulon” by Kurt von Behrmann
acrylic on canvas painting, 38” x 43” 2013
The work is about alienation, isolation and conformity. All of the rectangular shapes to the left are rough. The singular one to the right is smooth. The blue to the far right shares colors with the others, but is smooth. This one represents individuality and the price paid for it, isolation. The colors are representative of here and the brush strokes were inspired by French Impressionism.