An Englewood native is showing the impact art therapy can have on one’s mental health in a new exhibition he’s titled “Therapeutic Reasoning.”
Arts Correspondent Angel Idowu takes us to A Very Serious Gallery in River West for a look.
The phrase, “A lot can change in a year,” is one that could very well be used to describe artist David Ellis and the role expression has played in his life.
“I had really aggressive suicidal ideation and one of the first things on the safety list was to paint when I felt aggressive ideation,” Ellis said. “So that’s what I started doing … I went back to what made me happy as a kid, which was drawing.”
When it came time to pay rent, Ellis, who also goes by the name EWRKS, decided to sell his paintings on his front lawn. It grew so successful, the self-taught artist decided to do it monthly.
“I had my first two sales, and as soon as people stop and are buying art, and other people see people buying art, it just pulls more people’s eyes in the direction,” Ellis said.
Whether it be for himself or commissions, Ellis says he needs to paint every day.
“People kind of ignore the need for art and the place it holds in society that gives everything meaning ... art is needed,” Ellis said.
He shows that need for self-expression in a new exhibit at A Very Serious Gallery, 673 N. Milwaukee Ave., where he documents societal moments in time with acrylic on canvas. Each piece took no more than a day.
“So I’ll take screenshots to celebrity moments in pop culture moments and things that are meaningful to me … Nothing is super intentional in terms of like, what I create has always been for therapeutic reasons, like I created to feel good, to feel normal too, to balance myself to center myself, it’s never been about other people,” he explained.
While art and self-expression have helped Ellis improve his mental state, it’s a practice he says he’ll always have to work on.
“I feel like it’s important to know that it’s not the end all solution. It’s not this thing that’s going to make you like just helping the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s the thing that you always know, you can come back to center yourself.”
The characters Ellis has created live in what he’s called “The Day Room,” and hopes his art dismantles racism, homophobia and elitism, among other things.
“A lot of it kind of speaks to my [fluid] sexuality … I wanted to create this flow of understanding each other through creative means. I think artists have always been very intergenerational, so I can engage with young people my age, older Black folks, you don’t like the picture of a penis while talking about that,” he said. “So it’s a talking point and it creates like a bigger space for healing and understanding.”
While the work is created for his personal healing, he hopes it inspires Black and Brown children, specifically.
“The investment has to start at some point. There’s no way around not spending the money and not spending the time and not practicing,” Ellis said. “Take agency and creative agency over what it is you love to do, and like don’t let anybody else pilot your life decisions.”
“Therapeutic Works” at A Very Serious Gallery runs through Oct. 23.