Depression has long been associated with art. Picasso suffered through a “blue period” as did Van Gogh and many other artists. Through a critique of her own depressive episode, Elizabeth Wurtzel believes that depression “…is not worth any of the great art that comes as its by-product” (296). Prosenjit Roy is another in a long series of painters trying to visually define what his version of depression is in his work “Artist on a Mend,” a photo of a man looming over a darkly lit jail cell room with a woman cautiously approaching him. Roy’s painting focuses on what he considers to be the key elements of depression, all of which correlate to claims that Wurtzel makes in her memoir “Prozac Nation,” a book about a young woman’s struggle with her own depression.
Roy’s “Artist on a Mend” is symbolic of a person’s – possibly his own – account of depression. Although not related to Roy’s work, “Prozac Nation” shares themes with the painting throughout the book. Painted in a warm color scheme, one can see a stark contrast between the dark, seedy corner of the room, versus the dirty, well lit portions of the place. In her memoir, Elizabeth calls depression “a thick, tender, suffocating skin.” The man is dressed lightly, and one might be able to assume thanks to the color that the room might be hot. This would play well along with the rest of the painting asserting that this room is not only a small prison, but a place that suffocates one as well.
With only one barred window, and seemingly no lights, one can assume that at night, the room must be very dark, with only moonlight to light the room. Roy makes an interesting point out of this, leading the viewer to assume that night would be the most troublesome for the man in the room. The stark contrast of colors show the dark corners of the mind which the man doesn’t have any way of dispelling. Without a light – support, or perhaps treatment – the dark corners will continue to wax and wane throughout the days and seasons.
Wurtzel asserts in her prologue that “…every depressive is an island” and that “…depression is a very isolating condition” (353-354). The man in the painting is seen living alone, in a room with nothing but a bench and painting supplies. Although this in itself is something noteworthy, the whole paradigm of the painting is changed when one sees the jail door the woman is seen walking in through. One is meant to assume that this man is in some type of prison. Prozac Nation asserts that depression is some sort of “mental hell” (355). and Wurtzel’s quote accurately illustrate this idea of being locked up inside one’s mind. One could postulate that this man has lost his freedom due to his own mind’s plight.
The woman stands at the threshold of the prison, still holding onto the door, with one foot cocked as if to run back. With the way her left hand is positioned, she can be seen as ready to interrupt the man, although nervous as to doing so, with her reasoning being that he seems to be contemplating with pencil in hand. The woman herself can represent several things; the most obvious metaphor being that the woman is an agent of salvation, coming to save the man, possibly in the form of helpful treatment. This is perpetuated by the idea that she has entered this prison with the man.
On the other side, one might need to be more wary of her motives. Dressed in dark colors, and seemingly nervous, she approaches with caution, as though not to alarm the man. She continues to hold onto the door. In itself, this isn’t anything exciting, assuming that perhaps she doesn’t want to get locked out, but upon further inspection, she seems to be holding the door’s locking mechanism. This can be seen as a way to stay in control of the situation. With a quick back step, this woman can be out of the door and have it locked in one swift motion.
Another “prison” metaphor is where the viewer stands in this scene. Like a detective watching a suspect, it’s possible that the viewer is watching this man behind a one way glass panel. Wurtzel’s memoir, she ask her psychiatrist “What am I? A criminal? I’m not armed and dangerous or anything. I’m just unhappy” (321). Perhaps this woman can be construed as a protector. Although the man doesn’t seem happy in his predicament, he seems to be safe from harm. By viewing this man, we strip away one of his most basic rights; the right to privacy. Although this man is safe from harm, whether to himself or towards others, he isn’t safe from his thoughts.
The man himself can be seen as very lonely. His shoulders are slumped back in a manner that promotes the idea that perhaps he has been locked up for a long time. Although sitting there with a canvas and writing materials, the man hasn’t made a mark on it yet. There aren’t any other works of art that can be seen in this painting, which one can be lead to believe that his other paintings have either been taken away from him or that this is his first one. Painting seems to be the only way this man can pass the time.
Carefully planning his ideas for the canvas, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the woman. Perhaps the painting is a metaphor for the man’s future, and how he sees it. Without anything on the painting, one can believe the man is either very positive or very negative. This man can craft his own future as anything that he would like it to be. On the other side of the coin, more in form with the rest of the painting, the man might see his life as bleak, near the end. He’s trying to draw his future, but isn’t sure what to do. One could guess that in tune with his posture, he has been sitting waiting for inspiration for some time now.
One could also make the claim that the painter is Roy, struggling for inspiration. The room may be a physical representation of writers block. The woman, on the other hand, may symbolize many things; she may be the representation of a family member or friend, coming to console him, or she may be the physical form of reality – a jailer meant to keep him locked up.
Wurtzel puts it best by saying that “every person who has experienced a severe depression has his own sad, awful tale to tell, his own mess to live through” (351). This image is but one artist’s depiction of an ever-changing condition. Prosenjit Roy does an accurate job of painting a very real illness affecting millions of people, while still keeping the painting very personal. Watching the man in the room can cause one to feel sorry for him, being stuck in a lonely place without much to do. One can hope that although trapped inside his own mind, the man in the painting will be able to draw his way to freedom.
Roy, Prosenjit. “Artist on a Mend.” Photo. Freewebs.com 8 April 2011. < http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/artist_on_a_mend.JPG>
Wurtzel, Elizabeth. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. New York, NY: Riverhead, 1995. Print.