By Judy Carmack Bross
For the fortuitous guests at the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation’s INSIGHTS V exhibition recently, viewing multimedia works by artists with Bipolar Disorder was matched by the insightful opportunity to talk with the eight artists from across the country in town for the show at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery. As Joyce Sang, co-founder with her husband Dusty of the foundation named for their late son, who was an adroit artist, said: “their palate is filled with more colors.”
Abby McCormick O’Neil and Abra Wilkin served as Honorary Chairs, with Leslie Kennedy as Chair and Amy and Bill Morro, Mamie Walton, Liza Antelo, Elizabeth and Buck Betten, Margie Habermann, Merle Gordon, John Karoly and Suzanne Rose among the members of the host committee. INSIGHTS I debuted in Palm Beach in 2017, with Chicago’s debut show at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in 2018. The series is intended to raise awareness of Bipolar Disorder and to reduce the stigma associated with the serious illness of the brain by highlighting the creativity that an often accompany this illness.
Artwork chosen for INSIGHTS V was selected by a jury of major art collectors, gallerists and artists after a five-month nationwide competition. Artists were awarded Foundation grants, and the artists donated their work to the Foundation’s permanent collection of 130 varied works so that other exhibitions can be mounted across the country in coming years. Founded to address the incidence of early-onset Bipolar Disorder which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, potentially effects more than three percent of children and adolescents in the United States, the foundation focuses on research to find an empirical test for early detection and on awareness and understanding of the serious disease.
We asked Joyce and Dusty to tell us more about the fifth of their mesmerizing exhibits, which this year had the theme of “person or place important to the artist”.
Dusty and Joyce Sang
Joyce spoke movingly about their son whose talent was represented in the exhibition.
“For us, we saw in our son, Ryan, a creative brain “on fire.” In his short life, he produced a body of artwork, writings and music of someone who had lived much longer. The non-stop creative drive of some with Bipolar Disorder, especially when they are in a manic period, can take your breath away. Those people with Bipolar Disorder that are high function just seem to see the world differently. Their palate is filled with more colors. Our son loved to say that Bipolar Disorder was an evolutionary step in brain development, but the bugs hadn’t been completely worked out yet.”
Dusty Sang said:
“Over the years we have seen the INSIGHTS Exhibitions grow and we have heard from artists with Bipolar Disorder who felt a sense of validation when they viewed the works of other artists with the same illness. By showing incredible art that speaks volumes about the creative genius that some with Bipolar Disorder have, the stigma of this illness is diminished as people speak freely about their life stories and their experiences. In the future, there will be additional national competitions so that more artists with Bipolar Disorder can be involved.”
Several powerful works by Ryan Licht Sang, including one painted at age 12, included in the exhibition showed his facility in many mediums. One is composed of 10 of Ryan’s original sayings including: “I wonder how long forever is because I already have plans,” written in 1995.
Chicago artist Kelly Matthews submitted a hot wax painting titled “I Am So Much More,” which includes images of herself, artist Dale Chihuly and Margaret Trudeau, who spoke at the Sang Foundation’s 2022 luncheon, which is part of her series “Being Bipolar in a Polarized World.” Featured in every INSIGHTS Show since 2018, she has said that her involvement with the exhibition has inspired her to shift the focus of her work entirely to her experience as a person with Bipolar Disorder. This new chapter in her career as an artist has been incredibly successful. In the last year she’s had two solo exhibitions at Dittmar Memorial Gallery of Northwestern University and at The Art Center of Highland Park.
Other Chicago-based artists in the show included Victoria Loeb (who has also showed in previous INSIGHTS exhibitions), Kala Cree Cullars, and Sharon Gissy.
For more information on the work of the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation, visit ryanlichtsangbipolarfoundation.org
Photo Credit: Clare Britt Photography