Vandalism Studios and BethAnn Russell
Jul 17th, 2012 | By Tina | Category: Sights
BethAnn Russell, owner of Vandalism Studios at The Creative Center, is a unique artist. As all artists like to think of themselves as unique, and the previous statement seems obvious, I’ll elaborate. BethAnn is young, extremely talented in oil and acrylic painting, jewelry making, drawing, and public speaking. And BethAnn has schizophrenia that onset during her childhood. I had a chance to sit down with BethAnn and talk about her art, her life experiences and her advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill. We talked a lot about the stigma of schizophrenia, how many people confuse it with multiple personality disorder, and how people can be marginalized because of this very physical disease that manifests itself in a psychological manner.
When did you discover you had a talent for art?
BethAnn Russell: All I can really tell you is that I’ve always loved art. I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. People did always seem to respond to my art, whether positively or negatively, there was always an opinion. It was then when I realized the responsibility, the power, of art itself. And I knew I could do it, for whatever reason, and that it spoke to people. Through it I could speak to people. I took art through elementary, middle, and high school. I was accepted to art school at UNCG, but didn’t attend for very long, so all I experienced there was ceramics. I loved taking art classes always because I believe it gave me good foundations in drawing, theories and techniques.
What media do you work in, and what is your favorite?
BR: I work in oil and acrylic paints. Oil paints are by far my favorite. I love the bright and vivid color, and the creamy texture. I also make beaded and plastic jewelry, earrings and necklaces out of found objects and bottlecaps.
Can you describe your experiences as someone with schizophrenia? How did you find out, and what did you go through?
BR: I would love to. I always realized I was different from others. I saw and believed strange things that other people did not. I functioned fine, despite several years of depression. When I turned 16 everything changed. My depression came back with a vengeance. My hallucinations worsened and I started hearing voices. I became very suicidal again. The next few years were a very dark time for me, and I was hospitalized for most of it. I became catatonic and lost hope. Medications were tried one by one. Nothing was working. I received electro convulsive therapy sessions which helped my depression, but worsened the psychotic symptoms. It was then I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The diagnosis was a relief to me- I finally knew what was wrong and that it had a name, and that other people had it too. My family, on the other hand, was devastated. Eventually an anti-psychotic and an anti-depressant were released that I responded to. Life is quite a bit better now. I still hear voices and see things all the time despite many medications. I still have my depression, but it’s a vast improvement from being unresponsive and stuck in a psychiatric hospital.
BethAnn went on to tell me about her advocacy. While in the hospital, the staff noticed that she was bright and articulate, and asked her to speak to others about schizophrenia. BethAnn has gone on to speak to groups of police officers, nurses and nursing students, mental health professionals and those diagnosed with schizophrenia itself. She is a big supporter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and has been recognized by NAMI for her volunteer efforts.
Does your artwork help you? Do you find it therapeutic?
BR: Art is very therapeutic to me. I don’t know what I’d do without it!
How long has your studio been at The Creative Center, and what did you do before that?
BR: I’ve had my studio at the Creative center for a year and a half now. I just love it!! It’s become a second home for me. Before that I worked, painted in a class with Jack Stone, and spent a lot of time drawing. I also help out my friends that own MayaArtGalleryon Tate Street, since they carry some of my artwork.
Who are some of your influences? And your favorite artists?
BR: I’m highly influenced by a wide variety of both music and art – everything from sacred geometry, to tattoo flash, to old Christian art. Some of my favorite artists are Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, Renoir, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Mark Ryden, Monet, Edvard Munch, M.C. Escher.
What inspires you the most?
BR: I would have to say passion. I love to paint things I’m passionate about, whether it’s memories, nightmares, objects, or beauty.
How did you come up with the name Vandalism Studios?
BR: I must admit that I’ve always wanted a studio by that name. There is just something about taking something society views badly or negatively and producing something beautiful from it.
BethAnn clearly does that with her advocacy as well. She has taken what most would view as a very negative diagnosis and turned it into a teaching opportunity where she makes a real difference for those who have the disease, and those who deal with people with schizophrenia to foster understanding and compassion.
BethAnn currently sells art and jewelry at The Maya onTate St and is working on getting jewelry into Hypnotica onSpring Garden St. Also she will be in an art show featuringCreativeCenter artists at The Artery in August 2012, also located onSpring Garden St.
If you are interested in seeing the work of BethAnn Russell, contact her at Vandalism Studios,www.vandalismstudios.com, or BethAnnrussell@vandalismstudios.com. Visit her Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/VandalismStudiosNC or contact her at 336.937.0627