A group of people, from all walks of life, linger in a dimly lit hall. The shadowy walls in the hallway are lined with life sized, black framed photographs that are hung in a straight line at eye level. Each photograph is gently lit by a beam of light. The light baths and envelopes each photograph highlighting them as if they are something cherished. The objects in the photographs are larger than life. The room feels cool and comfortable and looks remarkably professional, modern, clean and masculine. The photographic images of singular items like a worn baseball glove, a frayed belt and a well-used wallet evoke a plethora of feelings and create meaning for those who take the time to view them. Meaning is discovered where there was none.
So, who’s art exhibit am I describing? Is it real or is it some image I’ve conjured up? To help me answer that question, I’d like to explain that in addition to being a natural born art enthusiast, I’ve actually taken art appreciation classes in college, and I’ve walked art exhibit hallways. My husband and I actually have had the privilege of visiting The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York as well as other art laden museums. Therefore, I do have an understanding and deep appreciation for art in all its forms. My favorite fine art piece is The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. When I saw The Starry Night painting for the first time my breath was taken away. I had been walking with my husband, looking at the awe-inspiring art that surrounded us, when my eyes saw The Starry Night painting for the first time in person. At that moment I left my husbands side. It is rare for me to leave his side. It was like I was in a trance. I gasped when I saw it, and I excitedly said, as if I were a child seeing Disney World for the first time, “Starry Night!” as I headed in the direction of the historic painting. My husband quickly caught up to me, and we both stood in the MoMa hallway staring at the painting in amazement. It was a once in a lifetime experience, one I will never forget. So, the art exhibit I described above is an imagined setting with a twist. I combined my love of art and my experiences with art with a real setting. The real art exhibit that I’m talking about is one that you may not have heard of yet. It is an art exhibit with photographs that showcase the unique personal belongings of one man. Who’s this man? Keep reading…
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Jay Sullivan and his fine art photography exhibit “Glove.” I highly encourage you to visit his website, and while you are there, just like the people lingering in the art exhibit hallway I described above, you are invited to view “Glove.” His fine art photography showcases particular items that he attributes to his father. When I discovered his exhibit I also learned that his father lived with bipolar disorder. (Sullivan, n.d.). The mere fact that he had a loved one who lived with the same mental illness as my loved one was interesting to me. Also, I learned that as Sullivan grew up there was a role reversal. He ended up taking care of his father who had succumbed to his mental illness. Sullivan’s father’s behaviors such as drinking, yelling, sleeping the days away, to name a few, indelibly marked Sullivan’s childhood and the very person he grew up to be. What I find fascinating is that after all Jay Sullivan has been through he connected with me through Stacy’s Flutterings blog. Instead of creating fine art, as a way to cope with my loved one’s illness, I write. How coincidental that we met as we tangle with the illness of our loved one’s.
Once I learned of Jay Sullivan’s story I decided that I wanted to share his story with you. In doing so, and as part of the process, I reached out to him and asked him, What are your hopes in regard to sharing your story? He said, “The question you posed is interesting. I was clear on why I created the work — to reconnect with my father— but why share it with others? Ultimately it is about encouraging sons and daughters to reconcile with their estranged fathers. Many men are cast adrift by their families because of illness, divorce and other events. I hope that my work will help sons and daughters understand how much their fathers have contributed to their lives and in turn it help them overcome barriers to reconciliation” (J. Sullivan, personal communication, June 2, 2014).
Sullivan’s response resonated with me in a way that I didn’t expect. His response to my question is powerful and one to admire and respect. It’s humbling to say the least. I hadn’t thought about reconciliation barriers between fathers and their children when I viewed his work. It’s difficult at best to comprehend what his childhood must have been like. What humbles me is that Sullivan took an unhealthy relationship, between his father and himself, and literally reframed it in a way that others can learn from it. And he himself has learned from his work. It intrigues me and gives me hope that we can reframe our experiences in such a way that we can actually develop new and refreshed relationships with those we love and/or those who have hurt us and that perhaps we don’t like. His artwork invites you into his world and literally shows you, through photographs, that you can regrow broken relationships. His photography is evidence of that fact. And…in an odd juxtaposition…the mending is beautiful.
In reaction to Jay Sullivan’s fine art photography, I’m going to throw a curveball back to Jay. Here goes…with a brand-new, white baseball with red stitching on the seams in my right hand I turn my body slightly to the right…I step back with my right foot… my right arm raises up slowly as I prepare to throw the ball…my right shoulder turns slightly to my right side…and with that I quickly throw the ball forward…
Jay Sullivan, thank you for explaining the meaning behind your fine art photography and the reason why you are sharing your story. In addition to reconnecting with your father and encouraging sons and daughters, whom have had a similar experience, to reconcile with their estranged fathers, through your work, I’ve discovered a powerful element to your work that sets it apart from many fine art exhibits, and that is the power of humanizing persons who live with mental illness. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary humanize means, “a: to represent as human: attribute human qualities to…” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, 2014). Your expressions, through your fine art photography and writings, humanize mental illness, and for that, I throw my baseball glove in the air as I celebrate yet another victory, the victory of progress in the ballpark of mental illness. You father was so much more than his illness as you shared. From the heart, thank you Jay Sullivan. I wish you the most success and look forward to hearing how you are doing as you continue to share “Glove.”
All the very best,
Humanize. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanize
Sullivan, J. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2014 from http://jsullivanartist.com