School of Art and Design Alumni Exhibition 2021

Wellington B. Gray Gallery

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Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge

Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery


Kevin Vanek
Graduated 2013

In my current studio practice, I create artwork that represents mental illness. As a long time sufferer of clinical depression, mania, and anxiety disorders my personal life has been dictated largely by my ability to subvert the mental anguish. I have grown accustomed to these illnesses, having accepted them as part of my life, using my artmaking to help cope I have found some reprieve from the hardest times. Through the creation of sculptures using traditional industrial crafts I can channel these raw mental states into creative outlets, and create objects that expose my truth.

During the times when I am alone and feeling the effects of my mental health disorders the most, I sketch and imagine new works to craft and occupy my time with. Whether it is a depressive bout that leaves me imprisoned in my house. Or manic swings that keep me over stimulated for days. Or the anxiety attacks that lead to me fleeing social gatherings. These, and any number of similar situations that ebb and flow through my life, I am able to view myself, and record the often cringe worthy versions I see. Through these mental cues, gestures and poses are assigned allowing me to create figural forms, which give shape to my mental states. The human form is a strong object within the psyche. It represents me, you, us, anyone, and everyone. These objects are stand-ins for me, but many people have similar tales to tell.

The studio has always been a place where I go to keep myself active during times of mental anguish and bouts with depression. Metal fabrication is a cathartic activity
for me, as it offers a task that keeps me physically and mentally distracted from my problems. This is reflective of my blue-collar heritage. Within working class society, particularly the fields of manual and industrial labor, mental illness is not afforded any sympathy and we are taught to simply work harder and ignore the pain. This has been my learned mentality and has become a key practice of my art making. Through the skills and techniques of industrial craft and an emotionally empathetic ability to show body language in the human form, I attempt to create
objects that speak for me. By exposing the vulnerability of mental illness in materials often associated with strength and permanence such as steel, iron, and wood, the seriousness of these illnesses is made clear.