Recovery is work. So is addiction. With addiction, the substances and behaviors become ritual. You fill your mind with using: when you’re going to use, how you’re going to acquire the resources to use, where you’re going to use, and who you’re going to use with. It becomes all-consuming, and the commitment to it only grows over time. Letting go of that routine leaves a gap that needs to be filled.
For me, art helped replace that empty space. When I stand before a canvas and lose myself in art-making, I find myself communing with all those things that make us human, and that we all need: a way to connect to a higher power, a purpose larger than ourselves, being part of a community, and finding something fulfilling that nourishes us.
I find purpose and value in living without substances. The spiritual satisfaction I find in creating art has given me a direct link to my higher power. Art was, and is, a reflection of my spiritual being. Art literally saved my life and reversed the increasing physical and spiritual decline brought about by substance abuse and gave me a buoy to hold onto.
Don’t get me wrong, quite frankly it takes much more than art to fill the gap that substance abuse leaves behind. It also takes professional guidance and a community of support. As a substance abuser, one of the most compelling holds it had on me was my card in the fraternity of users, the people who I considered friends. Within the fraternity of artists I found new friends. As my ties to that community grew, my desire to use substances diminished. Now, 23 years later, I continue to make art and to deepen those relationships that sustain me. I find service in art by helping others on their path to becoming artists. Helping children find their voices through art-making is a source of deep spiritual nourishment for me—a key element to a healthy recovery.
The art featured in this book is very personal and authentic. It represents the deep feelings these recovering people have about themselves, those close to them, and the world at large. They all resonate with the need to express oneself, not because they are looking to make a mark in the commercial art world, but they seem to represent our desires to be heard. This work expresses an ability to put the inner self out into the world for inspection: how bold of these recovering people to take that step.
Recovery isn’t just a notion; it’s work, dedication, and a commitment to change. I found it all within the magic of a paintbrush.
SHARED HUMAN JOURNEYS
Our typical clinical population at Odyssey House, who we call clients, suffers from one or more significant challenges—severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, ingrained personality disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and antisocial behavior. Too often, people coping with these conditions have difficulty finding motivation and expressing their feelings in socially beneficial ways.
The Odyssey House Art Project (OHAP) began with a fundamental premise: therapeutic healing happens simply in the process of creation.
For our clients, the spoken word has taken on a complexity that at times has gotten them into trouble. The words of parents, spouses, judges, attorneys, and therapists have often been experienced as confusing, un-empathic, even insulting. In response, the largely wordless process of creating art has a safety and comfort to it. For them, it’s also an important communication alternative, and positive stimulation to fill a void that drugs and alcohol occupied in the past.
“Art therapy,” with its rich and important history, was never the purpose of our program. In our view, interpreting and understanding unconscious motives are not central to the early stages of recovery from psychiatric episodes and drug use cycles and relapses. The pieces here are presented just as they were created: without analysis or judgment.
Instead, we believe the critical lesson is that good art is not just random and spontaneous. OHAP participants learn that there is purposeful discipline in creating art—that symbolism, color, design, materials, and style are all choices which the artist makes. This, in and of itself, is a powerful therapeutic vehicle. As their imaginations soar, so too does the desire to create and express themselves.
In this work, I hope you will find integrity, raw power, and depth of expression. I believe that the untrained artists whose works are collected here allow unusual access to the emotions, joys, and struggles that we all experience in our shared human journeys.
A NARRATIVE EXPERIENCE
Vice Chairman of Odyssey House
I was first introduced to Odyssey House when I agreed to redesign the organization’s graphic identity. As the project was pro bono, my original thought was to assign a junior design team, but after meeting the Odyssey House team I was so taken by their commitment to their cause, especially that of Dr. Peter Provet (President and CEO), I immediately pledged my direct involvement.
During my first visit to Odyssey House, I was intrigued by the powerful client artwork hanging throughout the halls. Without knowing much about the Art Project itself, I felt that these pieces were strong enough to not only inspire those within the organization but also the surrounding community and beyond. I wanted the world to experience this work too, to feel the struggles and victories of those in recovery. That became my mission, and ultimately this book.
Shortly after launching the new Odyssey House identity, I joined the Board of Trustees and began the process of making the book a reality. I had the opportunity to meet the extended management team, clinical directors, operational support staff, and clients from across several facilities and treatment programs. I was especially impressed with Jerald Frampton (Director of the Odyssey House Art Project) and the success he’d had with those who found their way to his art studio over a ten-year period. The consistency and sensibility of the work produced under Jerald’s direction continues to be a testament to the trust and respect that both clients and colleagues have for him.
Working closely with Jerald and senior management, we explored various concepts, storylines and structures that would make the vast body of work accessible to a broadened audience. We decided that the book should not be merely a collection of pieces, each with a detailed description and unique context, it should be a cumulative and singular visual narrative that unifies the art based on its formal merits and ability to engage and challenge the viewer to connect with the work on a personal level. Though every life is lived differently, the notion of life’s journey is universal, so the curation process focused on mapping a course from birth to rebirth, one that invites the viewer to explore, interpret, and discover on their own terms.
I’m honored to share this exceptional series of artwork from the Odyssey House Art Project with the world and hope it inspires in others what it has in me—the ability to reserve judgment, the courage to reject stigma and the curiosity to explore what unites us all—the uncertainty of life’s journey and our resilience in finding beauty and purpose along the way.